Steve Eby | On 27, Oct 2015
They say it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
For the past three seasons, the Cleveland Indians have finished just fine. From May to September, they have been one of baseball’s best teams. They have been the team that makes people say, “Nobody would want to play them in October”. Yet, the team has only one Wild Card Game loss to show for it.
And it’s that pesky “start” that’s the problem.
Since Manager Terry Francona was hired prior to the 2013 season, the Indians have shot themselves in the foot right out of the gate three out of three times. It took a miraculous run in 2013 with a ten game winning streak to finish the season just for the Indians to squeak out one game of “playoff baseball” (the quotes are for you, Kenny Lofton). Over the past two years, however, there has been no ten game winning streak and the Indians April swoon has proved too much to overcome.
It’s actually somewhat remarkable how lousy Francona’s teams have been in April compared to the rest of their seasons. In 2013, the Tribe was just 11-13 (.458) in April and 81-57 (.586) for the rest of the season. There was a dip in both records then for the next two years, as 2014 saw the team go 11-17 (.392) in April and 74-60 (.552) the rest of the way and then a 7-14 (.333) April buried the 2015 club before they went 74-66 (.528) from May to October.
Ironically, Francona’s statistics are in direct contrast to the previous manager’s outputs, as Manny Acta was brilliant in April over his last two seasons in Cleveland, but floundered for the rest of those years while he was at the helm. After a complete rebuild took place in Acta’s first season in 2010, his 2011 squad posted an 18-8 (.692) record in April before injuries took their toll and the team went just 62-74 following. Then, in 2012, Acta’s team again stormed out to an 11-9 record in April before the team completely fell apart with a 57-85 record over the last five months. Acta lost his job in September because of his team’s inability to perform after springtime.
So the solution is simple, right? Hire Manny Acta to coach in April and then let Francona take over in May, right? Unfortunately, things don’t usually make that much sense. What really needs to happen to buck this trend in 2016 is having Francona breaking camp with his 25 best players, not the 25 that he feels are entitled to a roster spot.
If there is one criticism of the two-time World Series Champion that has been noticed over his three years in Cleveland, it’s that he is too loyal to his players—specifically, his veterans. It may not seem like a character flaw to be loyal, but in the world of sports, playing Jose Ramirez over Francisco Lindor for two months is a cardinal sin. Francona has proven to be loyal to a fault…too slow to react when his veterans fall on their faces.
It’s not just the 2015 Lindor conundrum that has been head-scratching—that’s a whole story in itself—it’s also sticking with Michael Bourn and Scott Atchison for multiple months in 2015. Or Nick Swisher and Ryan Raburn in 2014. Or Mark Reynolds, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez in 2013.
For 2016 and beyond, Francona needs to break camp with his 25 best, or he needs to make adjustments far quicker than he has in the past. Another dismal April cannot be afforded, because apparently it’s not how you finish, it’s how you start.
Photo: Associated Press