So Where Do We Go From Here?
Vince Guerrieri | On 10, Oct 2018
So this is how it ends, like T.S. Eliot, not with a bang, but with a whimper.
When the Cubs beat the Indians in the wee small hours in November 2016, it felt – at least to me – like a moral victory. Yeah, the Indians lost a 3-1 lead in the World Series, but they were playing with house money just by GETTING to the World Series, with a two-and-a-half man rotation.
The next year hurt. The Indians won 102 games – second-most in team history – and again jumped out to a series lead, this time in the American League Division Series against the Yankees. I was one of the crowd in an epic Game 2 that ended after 13 innings with an Indians win, and I told a friend afterword, “This is the type of loss that doesn’t defeat a team. It demoralizes them.”
Well, like Smooth Jimmy Apollo said on “The Simpsons,” when you’re right 52 percent of the time, you’re wrong 48 percent of the time. The Yankees took the next three games (I swear to God, if Aaron Judge was six inches shorter, Jason Kipnis hits a home run and the Indians sweep), consigning the 2017 Indians to being little more than an underachieving curiosity. Here’s a not-so-fun-fact for you: The four teams in Indians history with the most wins didn’t win a World Series. Two of them didn’t even get there.
This year was supposed to be the year they put it all together. But they didn’t. Not in the offseason, when they let Carlos Santana, Joe Smith and Bryan Shaw leave without finding suitable replacements (no small feat during a winter that saw a variety of free agents available for the picking, raising the ugly specter of collusion). Not during the regular season, beset by injuries, with a shaky bullpen and an outfield by committee. And certainly not during the American League Division Series, where the Astros showed it was no accident that they won the World Series last year. As shadows crept across the field Monday, a pall fell over the Indians. Call it death in the afternoon.
If you’re an Indians fan, you’ve probably seen all the numbers in the ALDS postmortem: The lack of timely hitting from the team’s stars (except for Francisco Lindor), the self-immolating bullpen, the normally reliable Corey Kluber coming down with a case of Sabathiaitis: A brilliant regular season followed by a positively inept postseason. (For its namesake, the cure turned out to be a change of scenery and some pinstripes; the idea that Kluber could get the same treatment, even now, is too much for me to even contemplate.)
Put simply, this was a disaster. And there are plenty of question marks in the offseason. Michael Brantley will be a free agent, as will relievers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller (and yes, I’ve heard the idea that perhaps the Indians can re-sign them on the cheap given their lack of production this year. But in Major League Baseball, someone will always overpay).
And in Major League Baseball, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. The Astros are in full ascent after years of being dreadful. The Yankees were supposed to be a year away last year and are also now in full bloom. And the rest of the Central Division has been rebuilding. It won’t be the worst division in baseball for much longer. The window may not be closing – there are still plenty of good players under contract through 2020 – but the walls feel like they’re closing in.
Now truly is the winter of our discontent. At least there’s the Browns to give us hope.
Never thought I’d write that.