Indians Giving Cleveland What It Needs – A Winner
Bob Toth | On 22, Sep 2013
Meaningful September baseball this season sure beats what fans of the Cleveland Indians had to digest in the final stretch of the 2012 campaign.
While many of the pieces have changed from the squad that finished 2012 at 68-94, 20 games out of first place and in fourth place in the American League Central, the dramatic turnaround has given the city of Cleveland its first team with a winning record since the 2009-2010 Cavaliers and its first on the baseball field since 2007.
Fans have endured the painful rebuild of the Cleveland Cavaliers, post-LeBron James. After claiming another Cleveland Super Bowl title with the number one pick in the 2013 draft, a young Cavs team hopes to pull itself into the upper tiers of the NBA, guided by previous number one overall pick Kyrie Irving and fellow first rounders Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters.
The Cleveland Browns sent ripples through the city on Wednesday with the trade of second-year running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first round pick. Regardless of what side of the trade you stand on, the overwhelming message received by the fan base across the nation was that the season was over after just two games and that the franchise was gearing up to celebrate another high draft pick.
For the perennially-rebuilding Browns, it is a message received by its fan base far too often in the last 15 years.
Let Tank for Teddy begin.
The blind support of the Browns organization has been questioned in the last few years, most frequently and loudly by Chris Perez last season. Fans continue to support a revolving door of head coaches, front office personnel, and players. The fans have almost embraced and accepted the rebuild as a part of this organization and continue to throw their hard earned money down the toilet to support a mediocre, at best, product. But why?
I believe in supporting our teams through thick and thin, through the good times and bad, win or lose, but to suffer through supporting that Browns’ product, while ignoring the efforts down the street amidst the orange barrels at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, is absurd.
The Indians’ organization has done what fans asked for.
The product on the field is better. There really is no questioning that. Numbers seldom lie, and the significantly improved number in the win column indicates that progress was made on the ball diamond.
The team spent bags of cash in the offseason, bringing in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to supplement the existing core of younger ball players. Trade acquisitions Drew Stubbs, Yan Gomes, and Mike Aviles have all seen regular playing time and have contributed to wins.
Left field, now manned by Michael Brantley, is not an abyss of Triple-A caliber ball players. Gone are Shelley Duncan, Aaron Cunningham, Johnny Damon, Russ Canzler, Vinny Rottino, Thomas Neal, Jason Donald, and Brent Lillibridge, all of whom played in left field at some point in 2012. Ezequiel Carrera, who made 24 starts there last season, spent the majority of the season in Triple-A for the Indians.
Gomes has been a substantial improvement behind the plate, so much so that he has played himself into candidacy for the starting catcher role for 2014. The forgotten man in the mix, Lou Marson, may never put on an Indians uniform again.
The pitching staff, in particular the starting rotation, has been phenomenal. While Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Zach McAllister returned from last season, replacements Scott Kazmir, Corey Kluber, and Danny Salazar have all contributed and done an excellent job of picking up the slack while Masterson, McAllister, Kazmir, and Kluber all missed decent chunks of time with injuries. The efforts of these new pieces of the puzzle were far better than the results gained last year from Derek Lowe, Jeanmar Gomez, and an injured Josh Tomlin.
And what about the man guiding the Indians’ ship? Terry Francona has been a face of the franchise in his return to Cleveland. The Indians replaced Acta with a bejeweled, charismatic, and accomplished successor in Francona, and the results have been stellar. Surrounded by a coaching staff of guys who have quietly made substantial contributions to the product on the field, most notably with the work of Mickey Callaway with Jimenez, and established veterans in the clubhouse, Francona has rebounded the Indians from that awful 2012 collapse into a team very much in contention for a playoff spot in the American League.
The players have many marketable faces. They are visible. They are characters. They have personality. Many are likeable players to root for.
It hasn’t always been pretty this season. Every aspect of the team has had difficulties at some point or another over the course of the year.
The offense has been streaky and unpredictable.
When they score in bunches, they win. Entering Saturday’s game with Houston, the Indians were 42-5 when they scored six runs or more this season. When the offense is less than supportive and scores two runs or less, Cleveland is 9-41.
In an eight-game losing streak at the beginning of June, the team was outscored 51-27. Teams are not going to win many ball games when they allow an average of more than six runs a game, let alone when they are averaging 3.4 runs of offense at the same time.
They could not figure out the Detroit Tigers, posting a 4-15 record against the Kitties. Saving them, however, has been their utter dominance of the Chicago White Sox, who they have defeated 15 times in their first 17 meetings this year, with two more to go this week.
The bullpen has not been as effective as it had been in years past. Despite his 25 saves, Perez has not been the closer he once was and he dealt with injury earlier in the season. Setup man Vinnie Pestano struggled so much that he was not only taken from his eighth inning role, he was shipped to Columbus to work on his problems on the mound. In 38 innings of work, Rich Hill has earned a 6.39 ERA. Many of the pieces brought up from Triple-A, including Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes, Matt Langwell, Preston Guilmet, and David Huff, failed to get the job done either. Cody Allen has had to work so much in his first full season in the Majors (71 games, third-most in the American League) that his arm may very well fall off. He has easily surpassed his professional highs in games (58 in 2012) and is approaching his high in innings pitched in one season (72 2/3, again in 2012).
Despite the struggles, the team has competed and put itself in a position to sell possible postseason tickets. In the end, isn’t that what playing the game is all about?
Once the postseason begins, records are a clean slate and anything can happen. It is all a moot point, however, if you fail to finish amongst the top five in the league.
It feels like it has been an eternity since that final playoff game for Cleveland on May 13th, 2010. We deserve better. If you aren’t following what is going on with the 113-year-old baseball team at Progressive Field, you are truly missing out, because whether you believe they can make the postseason and be successful once they are there, the Indians have given Cleveland what it needed desperately this season – a winner.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images