Cleveland Indians baseball is finally underway in 2021.
The whole squad is out in Arizona for Sunday’s spring opener against the Cincinnati Reds.
This year is going to feel weird from the start because of Francisco Lindor now being with the New York Mets.
But the loss of Lindor doesn’t mean the Indians are without star players this year.
There are two players still on the roster who are not only stars, but true American League MVP candidates in 2021.
The Candidate on the Mound
AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber had 82 strikeouts through his first 50 innings pitched in 2020, the most by a starting pitcher through his 1st 50 IP in a season in MLB history (h/t @EliasSports)
Let's watch some Bieber strikeouts 💪 ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/qVFmFtDDCL
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) February 28, 2021
A pitcher needs to dominate to even compete for MVP and he did just that.
The sky is truly the limit for Bieber.
He posted a 1.63 ERA last year in 12 starts and also had 122 strikeouts.
His numbers projected over a full season are just insane.
All this dominance came in only his third season with the Indians.
2019 was also his first full season so there is not telling where Bieber’s peak truly lies.
Finishing 2021 with an ERA even under 2.00 would have the ace right in the MVP conversation once again.
Not having a clear batter competing for the award would build his case as well if he repeats his 2020 numbers over a full season.
However, there is a player on his own team who could fight for the award as well.
The Candidate at the Plate
Jose Ramirez has been a perennial MVP contender since 2017.
Jose Ramirez WALK-OFF to clinch the Indians' playoff berth 😱
— Bleacher Report MLB (@BR_MLB) September 23, 2020
He finished third in the voting that year and came in third once again in 2018.
Last year saw Ramirez finish in second behind Jose Abreu.
Ramirez’s presence on the roster is why Lindor’s absence doesn’t totally tank the team’s chances in 2021.
He has a 28.1 career WAR and beat all his career averages last year with a final slash line of .292/.386/.607.
The fan favorite also launched 17 home runs in only 58 games.
Ramirez is one AL player who stands out as a direct competitor to Bieber in the MVP race and that is great news for the Indians.
Having only one legitimate MVP candidate is still rare.
Having two is a gift.
In the past you could go on and even add a third or fourth candidate.
However, after trying, there is not another player on the roster who is even a potential dark horse for the award.
That doesn’t mean someone can’t surprise us all like Bieber did with his legendary 2020 season.
It is just hard to predict at this point in time given all the youth and unknowns on the roster.