Previously on “The Indians Were Supposed to be Good”…
Jonathan Knight | On 31, Jul 2015
Generally, being an Indians fan and being disappointed go hand in hand. Taking a 70-year break between championships does that.
Their history is littered with broken promises and letdowns and interminable seasons that seem to last longer than World War I. And while this year is certainly not among the worst in Tribe history, it most assuredly will go down as one of the most disappointing.
We can blame Sports Illustrated and its bold promises for this edition of the Tribe all we want, but even without SI, it’s safe to say we all had higher expectations than what we’ve been getting.
While the Tribe front office struggles with how to repair its legion of problems, we’re left with nothing to do but watch the team slowly die like a fly on a windowsill. And as that becomes more and more unwatchable, we start making comparisons.
The quickest (and most painful) parallels we can make are holding these Indians up to successful teams that, once upon a time in March, we considered the Tribe equal to or better than. (For instance, remember when we thought the Indians would be better than Kansas City? Silly rabbit.)
Once that round of bitterness (and Miller Lites) is gone, we turn to comparing the Indians to previous versions of themselves.
In winning seasons, this can be fun. Even in tremendously miserable ones, there’s also a glassy dark enjoyment that comes out of this. But in years like this, there are few comparatives to make. Mostly we compare expectations, which leads us to two seasons we’d much rather forget.
For all their struggles, it’s safe to say the 2015 Indians have got the 1987 team beat – no 100 losses for Tito, thank you very much. Which leaves just one other recent Tribe team that entered the season with championship aspirations and came absolutely nowhere close.
The 2008 Indians were picked by many to go to the World Series, primarily based on the Central Division title and damn-near-pennant the previous year. They brought back the entire core, which included strong starting pitching, the reigning Cy Young Award winner, and a killer bullpen. Sound familiar?
Thus, the comparatives between 2008 and 2015 are ample. The ’08 team started slow, losing 10 of its first 15 games, then rebounded in mid-May behind spectacular pitching to actually hold down first place for a couple days. A seven-game losing streak around Memorial Day halted all progress in its tracks, then a 10-game skid in early July turned the season into yet another lost cause.
Once everybody stopped caring, things leveled off, and a 10-game winning streak in late August helped the Indians climb all the way back to even, finishing with a misleading 81-81 record.
Most of that was because of Cliff Lee, who emerged from nowhere to become the finest pitcher in the American League. Watching him tear through his 22-3, 2.54 ERA season was truly something to behold, and every fifth day when Lee started, the Indians looked like the team we expected them to be.
But that was all there was.
Sabathia, like Cy Young champ Corey Kluber, struggled early, then suffered from lack of run support. His ERA was a strong 3.83 but his record was just 6-8 when he was traded to Milwaukee for (sigh) Matt LaPorta in July.
The Artist Formerly Known as Fausto Carmona tanked (dropping from 19 wins to eight, his ERA ballooning from 3.06 to 5.44), and the bullpen was miserable. Joe Borowski, always a disaster waiting to happen even while somehow racking up 45 saves in ’07, imploded. After allowing 14 runs in 18 appearances and saving just six games, he was released. And the rest of the bullpen – primarily Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez – failed to rise to the occasion.
Meanwhile, the ’08 offense, while occasionally as irritating as the one we have now, was undoubtedly better. Middle of the pack statistically across the board, there were still some packed punches. Grady Sizemore hit 33 homers and drove in 90 runs. Jhonny Peralta launched 23 home runs and hit .276. Kelly Shoppach emerged from a backup role for a .517 slugging percentage. Casey Blake nearly hit .300. Any one of those guys would be Lou Gehrig on this year’s team.
You can argue it was a different era and offense is down all around baseball and it’s not just the Indians, yadda-yadda (an argument that gets more and more threadbare each time we hear it). But the bottom line is that you didn’t Google the symptoms of Lyme disease every time the 2008 team came to bat.
Comparing this Tribe team to that one gives you the perspective to fully understand two things: this year’s pitching staff, soup to nuts, is better than we’re giving it credit for, and should give us hope for next year. And that this year’s offense is a five-alarm fire which may extinguish much of that hope.
The oh-well trades of David Murphy and Brandon Moss notwithstanding, there’s no indication of an impending fire sale akin to the one that began with the trading of Sabathia in 2008 and really got cooking the following year. The current Indians are better positioned with long-term contracts for young players still on the rise than seven years ago.
In other words, there’s no plan to give up on 2016 and 2017 and invite fans to hit the snooze button until 2018. (Not that that philosophy worked back then. Remember target date 2012? God.)
This is a nauseating season that we, like the Indians, can’t wait to be done with. Perhaps with some off-season tinkering and maybe some giant leaps forward by some of the potential sluggers at the double-/triple-A level, things will be better a year from now and the Indians will be closer to the team we expected them to be in 2015.
Photo: Getty Images