Posts By Craig Gifford
There are some great pitchers from before 1959 who will never be able to be judged in history by the number of Cy Young Awards they have won. That is the year the now-prestigious award came into being.
From that season, on, pitching icons have been defined by, and doors to baseball’s Hall of Fame have been opened, by winning that piece of hardware. Those who have won the trophy multiple times have earned a special place in pitching lore. If a hurler can distinguish himself among his peers over multiple seasons, he must truly be great.
Roger Clemens won baseball’s top pitching prize a record seven times. He would be enshrined in Cooperstown if not for getting entangled in the steroid mess that has stained the careers of may players from the 1990s and early 2000s. Randy Johnson won the Cy five times, while Greg Maddux and Steve Carlton earned it four times each. All three players are in the Hall of Fame. Pedro Martinez, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer and Sandy Koufax won the trophy three times – ditto on the Hall.
Once the Cleveland Indians best everyday player and MVP candidate, Michael Brantley has become one of the team’s biggest question marks over the last couple of offseasons.
One question surrounding Brantley was answered this offseason already. That happened last week when the Tribe picked up his $11.5 million team option for 2018. In doing that, it put to bed the question of whether or not the two-time All-Star and a former top-three MVP vote-getter would be back for a tenth season in Cleveland.
There are so many more questions, however, clouding the winter and early spring when it comes to the superstar left fielder. As was the case the last two offseasons, they involve an injured body part and recent surgery. Unlike past offseasons, the concern is not with an ailing shoulder. Instead it is with a problematic ankle.
Last year, the Cleveland Indians made one of the biggest free agent signings of the winter. The guaranteed $60 million for three years doled out to slugger Edwin Encarnacion was the richest contract handed out in club history.
So, as this winter’s hot stove season starts to heat up, what will the Indians do for an encore performance? Is there another splashy signing in the near future? The reality is there does not need to be and probably will not be.
For the Indians, this winter is and should be more about taking care of their own free agents than going outside the organization to bring in another big-time player.
How much money are the Cleveland Indians willing to put toward their vaunted bullpen?
That is something Tribe fans may find out this offseason. Arguably the best relief corps in baseball, the team has two key free agents in Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith. The bullpen would definitely have a different feel to it without Shaw, but to what lengths should the Tribe actually go to keep a reliever who is not one of its top two pitchers?
Every offseason, every Major League Baseball team has tough decisions to make. Most teams – even the good ones – rarely start a new season with every player that they had the year before. Expiring contracts, contract options, and free agency are facts of life for all MLB clubs.
That is why this past season felt so special for the Cleveland Indians. Very few tough decisions had to be made last winter. The ones that were ended up being greeted with happy returns. Mike Napoli had to go, but the Indians upgraded with Edwin Encarnacion. Rajai Davis was not retained, even after his near-heroics in the 2016 World Series. Cleveland did not miss a beat without him. Those players represented the only difficult decisions that the Tribe’s deep thinkers needed to make last offseason.
It will not be so easy this winter.
Cleveland has more free agents and contract options to consider this time around. At the core of every decision the team makes this winter, may be the greatest debate of all – the question of Jay Bruce or Carlos Santana?
There are many reasons why the Cleveland Indians’ season is over right now instead of the team playing in the ALCS (which was instead contested between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees). As we all know by now, the former knocked out the Tribe in a gut-wrenching five-game ALDS last week.
A major reason that Cleveland’s season fell short of great expectations was an offense that simply fell flat once the playoffs arrived. The Indians struggled to get much of anything going at the plate, especially in games 3-5. In those final three contests, all losses, the Indians score 0, 3, and 2 runs respectively. It’s hard to win when that happens.
The poster boys for the Tribe’s offensive woes seem to be Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Both struggled at the dish during the five-game series with the Bronx Bombers. Ramirez had but two hits in 20 at-bats for an anemic .100 batting average. Lindor, who did provide a big-time grand slam in Cleveland’s Game 2 come-from-behind win, also had just a pair of hits in 18 at bats, hitting a mere .111.
As he takes the mound Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, Cleveland Indians starter Carlos Carrasco is sure to hear plenty of boos from what can be raucous and loud crowd for visiting teams to deal with. This New York crowd is sure to be extra amped up for their home team, returning from the first two games at Progressive Field, with the Tribe holding a commanding 2-0 series lead in the best-of-five American League Division Series. Those Yankees fans will not want to see Carrasco pitch like an ace, as he has done so many times over the past few seasons.
All of that will be perfectly fine to Carrasco. He will be simply happy to be pitching in a playoff game Sunday after an excruciatingly long wait. One of the longer-tenured and certainly talented Indians players, Carrasco had to sit idly by while his teammates enjoyed the breakthrough success of winning and A.L. championship in 2016.
Last September, the Indians were humming along, well on their way to winning the American League Central Division championship and well on their way to the playoffs. Cy Young winner in 2014, Corey Kluber, and Carrasco were primed to form a formidable one-two postseason punch that would be hard for any team to topple. Then, disasaster struck for the Tribe’s No. 2 starter.
Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Mike Clevinger sure has come a long way this season. He followed up a so-so 2016 rookie campaign with something of a breakout season this year.
In his first Major League season, Clevinger bounced between the bullpen and starting rotation. He was 3-3 with a 5.26 ERA. He seemed in over his head at times and was only on the Tribe’s 2016 postseason roster out of necessity. With a full complement of healthy pitchers on hand, the Indians probably would not have had room for the long-haired hurler.
This really changed this season, however. The 26-year-old right hander found his footing in Cleveland’s rotation. He has started 21 games and entered the weekend series with the Chicago White Sox at 12-5, with a 3.07 ERA. He has shown that he is likely going to be a fixture in Indians starting five for some years to come.
The 1954 and 1995 Cleveland Indians are largely considered the greatest ball clubs in team history. In the annals of an organization that dates back to 1901, those two groups stand as the only ones in the team’s 117-season lifespan to ever win 100 games.
Cleveland’s 1954 squad won 111 games. That is a team record for one season. It was a Major League Baseball record until the Yankees marched to 114 victories in 1998 and was again topped by the 116-win Seattle Mariners in 2001.
That 1995 team, still loved by most Clevelanders, slugged their way to 100 wins in a strike-shortened 144-game season. With 16 more contests, that group, led by the likes of Albert Belle, Eddie Murray, Carlos Baerga, Charles Nagy and Orel Hershiser, among so many more, may have outdone the great 1954 ball club.
We are approaching the one-year anniversary of a game better left forgotten.
Last September 17, a line drive off the bat of Ian Kinsler struck Carlos Carrasco in the right hand. The second pitch of that mid-September game broke the pitching hand of Cleveland’s No. 2 starter. At the time, it seemed it would shatter the long-term playoff hopes of a Tribe team that was already destined to win the American League Central Division.
The effects of losing their second best starter were not evident immediately. An injury-depleted rotation carried by 2014 Cy Young winner and ace Corey Kluber and a top-notch bullpen spearheaded by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen gamely pitched the Indians to the doorsteps of what would have been the team’s first World Series championship since 1948. Of course, it was not to be as the Tribe lost Game 7 of the Fall Classic to the Cubs in extra innings.
What might have been with a healthy Carrasco, though, is the biggest unknown of all from last year’s postseason run. The Tribe was able to get through the ALDS against Boston and the ALCS against Toronto with little problem. However, the pitchers doing the heaviest of lifting were clearly tired by that final game against Chicago.
May 1 is never a good time to hit a panic button when it comes to baseball.
Whether it is a team or player that has just gone through a sub-par April, the game has proven time and again that things are never exactly what they seem one month into any baseball season.
That old mantra has been proven yet again this summer when it comes to the Cleveland Indians and their $60 million dollar investment in Edwin Encarnacion. On May 1, many Tribe fans were shouting, complaining, and worried that Double E would be the latest in what seemed to be an emerging line of Indians’ free agent busts.
Everyone knows about one left-handed reliever that the Cleveland Indians acquired last July. The trade for Andrew Miller proved to be an important one for the Tribe as the relief ace and 2016 American League Championship Series MVP helped lead the way in October all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
The magnificent Miller was not the only lefty the Indians added last July – he was the only one that made shock waves. However, Tyler Olson is now making some waves of his own. Before the blockbuster trade-deadline deal for Miller, Cleveland claimed Olson off waivers from the Kansas City Royals. The largely unheralded and barely mentioned move happened on July 9, 2016, a little more than three weeks before Miller traded in his Yankees pinstripes for Tribe red, white, and blue.
For several years, the Indians have thrown darts at the dart board and putty at a wall to simply see what sticks when it comes to left-handed relievers. Before Miller, the bullpen was a revolving door of left-handed specialists who failed to get much done in Cleveland. Managers like to have two southpaws that they can count out of the ‘pen. Tribe skipper Terry Francona has been lucky to have one such arm to turn to since coming to Cleveland in 2013.