I woke up this morning and the sky was a hazy gray. When I stepped outside, a fine mist greeted me. It was fitting. Depressing the remote entry button for the car, I proceeded to get into my 2015 Hyundai Sonata and situate myself. After the usual routine of locking in my seat belt, my next order of business was turning on my Zune player and pulling up my Linkin Park folder of albums. From there I selected Play All. Why was this my selection over perhaps some local radio chatter or one of the thirty CD options at my disposal? It just felt like the way to go in my gut, so I ran with it.
Over the last handful of years I have taken to this very blog to purge my emotions and thoughts on my Cleveland Indians once the season is done. I usually call it a season post mortem. Why? Because my sense of humor is often referred to as ‘dark’ sand that’s just how I roll. Expunging six or seven month’s worth of pent up baseball is quite therapeutic. For those who are not baseball fans or sports fan in general, this may seem stupid or inconsequential. But for me, I have been invested in my Indians for about 25 years now. With the genesis of my Indians interest originating in a pre-season publication, either The Sporting News or Sports Illustrated (I forget which) talking about the Indians chances for 1992 campaign. The timing of this was a few years after the first Major League movie and the article was a good read. At the time I was a lifelong (read fan of since age five) St Louis Cardinals fan because we lived in Missouri and near St Louis so naturally that’s where the baseball focus was. That year the Indians didn’t do anything special, finishing with a losing record at 76-86. I was following them but casually through box scores and game recaps in the newspapers. Then, in 1993 during spring training, tragedy struck and I was fully hooked; they were now my adopted second team. In the midst of the deaths and the black cloud over that season, how could you not root for this team? This did not even take into consideration the long history of losing the franchise had endured and their implied underdog role.
This is where the franchise was off and running with crushing my baseball hopes. The 1993 team finished no better than the 1992 squad, which was in itself an accomplishment all things considered. But the 1994 team was my first taste and tease of what would come over the next two plus decades. The year 1994, in baseball terms, will always be a scar on the hearts of true baseball fans. 1994 was the only time since the World Series has been in existence (1903), that there were no playoffs or World Series for the sport. This was also the first year of the new Wild Card format for the year end playoffs and when the season was cancelled, the Indians were sitting in that Wild Card spot and just one game behind the Chicago White Sox for the division lead. Very disappointing turn of events but not the franchise’s fault per se.
But over the next several seasons the Indians were good. They were very good indeed, at least in the regular season. They won the American League Central Division six of seven years from 1995 through 2001. Twice during that period the team advanced to the World Series, losing in 1995 and 1997. The team was actually winning late in game seven of the 1997 series until Jose Mesa coughed up the lead and the team eventually lost by a run. During this run of years I was completely invested in the Indians and I still was a casual Cardinals fan but not on the same level. I kept scrapbooks of articles and a notebook of stats and notes about each season for Cleveland. Those mid-late 90’s Indians teams were fun. Lots of home runs, stolen bases and OK pitching but they could never seal the deal.
Over the next eleven seasons the team was pretty mediocre (to be nice) as the talent aged and left. Team ownership was regularly criticized for being thrifty on talent acquisitions and not keeping the free agents due to rising player salaries. The lone exception was the 2007 team. That team finished first in the division and put away the New York Yankees in the first round series 3-1 before moving on to play Boston. The team teased another World Series appearance by rushing out to a 3-1 series lead over the Red Sox before the roof caved in and the Sox won the last three games by a combined score of 30-5.
The team would not sniff the playoffs for another five years until they qualified as a Wild Card entrant in 2013. But this time around the playoff format for Wild Card teams had changed from a guaranteed series (best of five games) to a single elimination game between two wildcard teams and the Indians fell at home to the Tampa Bay Rays 4-0. After two ‘winning’ seasons where the team was above .500 for win-loss record but not playoff team worthy, the team seemed to put it all together in 2016. The team finished first in the American League Central Division. The regular season featured a 14-game winning streak that allowed them to separate from the rest of the division. They blew through the Red Sox in three games in the American League Division Series. Then with one little hiccup against the Toronto Blue Jays (4 wins to 1 loss), the team represented the American League in the World Series for the first time in 19 years. Despite several critical injuries to key players (Carasco, Brantley, Bauer) they took three of the first four games against the Chicago Cubs. Leading the World Series three games to one, the franchise seemed poised to end almost seven decades of baseball misery for the Team by the Lake. But the baseball Gods apparently were more sympathetic to the plight of the longer suffering Cubs fans and the next three games slipped through the team’s virtual fingers. Noteworthy, in the last three games of the 2016 World Series, was that the Indians never held a lead. It’s pretty hard to win that way.
So that brings me to the 2017 season in Tribetown. The bulk of the roster was brought back with the addition of Edwin Encarnacion and subtraction of Mike Napoli. But for the most part the cast of characters was virtually unchanged. I wrote a blog piece, somewhere around July of this year, chastising the group for underachieving as they were hovering a little above the .500 win-loss record mark. I detailed about a dozen players that needed to be shipped out (one of them was Trevor Bauer). The team slogged along until late August when they picked up veteran Jay Bruce for basically nothing except the obligation to pay the remainder of his contract. Then the team became national news. The team won every day for more than three weeks! Unheard of! Granted most of the winning streak was against teams from their own division and those teams for the most part had losing records. The team cruised down the stretch. The top three pitchers: Kluber, Bauer and Carasco were sensational! Not to take anything away from Clevinger or Tomlin because you don’t win for three weeks straight without everyone in the starting rotation doing at least a decent job. Beating up on the rebuilders and struggling teams may have given everyone a distorted idea of what this team really was. But damnit the team was crushing the competition! They outscored their opponents during ‘the streak’ by more than 100 runs! That’s impressive no matter who you are playing. Maybe the club expended too much energy down the stretch after the division was secure and all that was left in doubt was best record for the American League and best record overall which would determine home field advantage in the different rounds of the playoffs.
Over in the National League the Dodgers went from unbeatable to terrible to stabilized and captured the best overall record and home field advantage throughout the playoffs in their entirety. So that left the American League best record still in play and the Indians finally locked that up on the second to last day of the season but alas it would not matter. If you go back to the last three years the Indians qualified for the playoffs, their respective seasons ended with a playoff loss at home (2013 Tampa Bay, 2016 Chicago Cubs, 2017 New York Yankees). In the 2016 World Series, the Indians actually lost three of the four home games. So what does home field advantage really mean to Cleveland?
Back on topic, the 2017 season started with expectations to return to the World Series according to many publications for the Cleveland Indians. Carrying through the early months of the season, talk radio and many online articles still pegged the team as a post season contender despite the lackluster win-loss record. At the traditional July trading deadline, the team picked up former Indians reliever Joe Smith to help solidify the bullpen and of course, the pickup of Jay Bruce during the waiver trading deadline for August. With the torrid last six weeks of the season, the Indians were back in the talk for who was going to the World Series and got many ‘experts’ thumbs up to win it all. This is usually the kiss of death to a team’s chances, like a football player getting selected for the Madden football game cover (for gaming consoles) usually ends up with that player getting hurt and having a dismal season.
In the 2017 MLB playoffs, the Cleveland Indians won two games. That is two more playoff games won than the following teams: Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants. None of these teams mentioned made the playoffs and they were the five worst teams in all of baseball. What is my point here? That the 2017 Cleveland Indians are on par with the worst teams in baseball when it comes to post season series won this year. Harsh…but sadly true. 102 wins in the regular season…and only two in the postseason when eleven is the goal. For the five game series, the Indians on had three players bat above .250 and two of those were their catchers Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes who were arguably two of their weaker hitters during the regular season. The other guy above .250 was a guy who wasn’t with the team for almost five months of the regular season (Jay Bruce). In the homerun department, the club hit five (2 Bruce, Santana, Perez, Lindor) and scored a total of 17 runs. But take away the 9 run fluke game two and the team garnered only 8 runs total in the other 4 games. Usually that is not enough to win a playoff series. Batting as a team they had more strikeouts (61) than hits/walks (28+18=46). Three of their four best hitters (Ramirez, Lindor, Encarnacion) combined for 4 hits in the series (2,2,0). Of the 28 hits spread out over the five games (5.6 per game average): five were homeruns, two were doubles, one was a triple and the rest were singles. To be fair the Yankees were not that much better with strikeouts (64) against hits/walks (35+21=56) but still better. They did have an edge in extra bases hits too (13 NYY vs. 8 CLE). The Yankees also only had three players hit above .250 (Hicks, Gardner, Castro).
If you would have told me before the series started that Aaron Judge would hit .050 and strike out 16 of his 20 at-bats plus Chase Headley would go 0 for 12 with six strikeouts, I would have said I will take it. I do not know who ended up getting the ALDS MVP for the Yankees but it should be Didi Gregorius. For the series only got four hits and walked six times but drove in three runs on two homers in the win or go home game five.
Many people will lay the series loss at the feet of Corey Kluber and an argument can be made that it is justified. But I will do like Cady Heron at the end of Mean Girls and break that crown up and spread it around. A piece for Carlos Santana for botching a double play ball during the big inning for the Yankees in game two that spiraled out of control. A piece for Giovanny Urshela for missing a line drive in game four during Trevor Bauer’s second start and tag team that piece with Roberto Perez’s passed ball that allowed that (error) runner to get into scoring position and eventually score. A huge chunk to the defenders et al for game 4 (oy vey). A medium sized piece to Corey Kluber for not figuring out how to keep the Yankees in the park (4 HR allowed in 6.1 innings). A piece the size of a face palm hand to Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor for using the 2016 hitting approach of Kolten Wong. You guys are speedy; how about cutting down your swings with two strikes or trying to lay down a bunt early in the count to start a rally? A piece, the size of red Swingline stapler, to the entire Cleveland team of hitters with runners on base for lack of patience and discipline. I know the pitchers for the Yankees throw hard but you are professionals. Figure out a way to quit killing your rallies with double plays and move runners along with less than two outs.
If you remove the nine runs allowed on Kluber’s watch, the team (starters plus bullpen) gave up 12 runs in roughly 41 innings. That equates out to a 2.65 or so ERA. You really cannot ask much more of a team pitching-wise. For a team that had so much potential and was on such a roll plus being gifted game two of the series by Yankees, the season had such a disappointing outcome. I know there are many Cleveland Indians’ fans out there. Some will do like I’m doing and do their own autopsy of what went wrong. Some will place blame on Terry Francona. I will not. The reason is simple; no matter if your manager is Francona or Matheny or whomever manages the San Diego Padres, the outcome boils down to the players. The smartest manager can put the best players in the best situations but if they do not produce you lose. Just like you can have a terrible manager but if the player he puts in the situation succeeds, then he looks like a genius. Baseball is a hard game. Someone has to win…someone has to lose. Now we wait and see how the games play out for the rest of the month.
In closing, I am sad and disappointed that 2017 for the Cleveland Indians is done. However, they are my team and up until a few days ago I was very entertained and excited about the season the club had. Even in defeat in game three, the team battled and lost a baseball game that unfortunately someone had to lose. Do I think the game could have been won? Sure. Judge: don’t catch that Lindor potential homerun ball! Indians hitters: take a pitch or two because the last thirty pitches Tanaka threw ended up ankle high. Andrew Miller: maybe throw that one pitch to Bird outside. Ah, what could have been on that trip to NYC. But as I said, they are still my team and I guess we will see what the winter brings for next year. With a good 2018, maybe this team can get through an October without injuries hampering the team’s potential.
P.S. For those of you wondering who I would like to win from the remaining teams, let me say this: none of them. LOL. Sorry it’s still too fresh and outside of my Indians I don’t want anyone to win. But semi-seriously, on the AL side maybe the Yankees (but I doubt it) since it would vindicate my team’s loss as legit. On the NL side, I could stomach anyone but the Dodgers. No reason why on those just my gut feelings.
P.S.S. The Cleveland Indians should never have agreed to drop Chief Wahoo as from the merchandise and apparel. Maybe that was what killed Jobu’s mojo.