Posts By Craig Gifford
The Major League Baseball All-Star Game, a fun exhibition to get the sport’s best players on the field at the same time, will be just that once again. After 14 seasons of trying to give the Midsummer Classic a little extra meaning, the league’s powers that be finally restored it to what it should be.
The newest collective bargaining agreement, inked by the game’s owners and players union in the late hours of Wednesday night, wiped out the rule that home field advantage in the World Series would be decided by which side won the mid-July contest. It was a good move to go back to that all-important edge being decided in games that count and going to the team with the best record.
Granted, the now-vanquished award for winning the All-Star Game did help the Cleveland Indians this past year. The Chicago Cubs were far and away the best team in baseball during the regular season. They were the only club to hit the 100-win mark. However, because the American League squad won this season’s 87th All-Star Game, it was the Tribe that hosted four of the seven Fall Classic contests and had the chance to have the deciding Game 7 on familiar grounds. Even though that final game did not go the Indians’ way, playing a seventh game of a postseason series at home is always more of an advantage than hitting the road.
Fresh off an unexpected run to the World Series, the Cleveland Indians have finally seemed to have regained the good will and following of a fan base that seemed to have lost a lot of interest in the last decade.
Following a 2007 trip to the American League Championship Series, the Tribe was a hot team in town. However, Cleveland fell out of contention in 2008 and began selling off key players from that roster. That included trades in consecutive years of Cy Young Award winners C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee. The fans turned on management for jettisoning those loved athletes, along with catcher/designated hitter Victor Martinez. Attendance went into a nosedive as the Indians struggled from 2008-2012. Fans stayed away from the ballpark even as the Tribe turned in winning seasons from 2013-2016, which included a pair of postseason runs.
Finally, this year the Indians made the city of Cleveland take notice of its team that plays on the corner of Ontario and Carnegie. The club was fun to watch, with a lot of younger players. A deep and exciting run through the playoffs brought Indians and baseball fever to a degree not seen in Cleveland since the great run of the mid-to-late 1990s Tribe.
Major League Baseball closers do not fall off of trees. It is not easy to find a truly good one. The Indians have one and now they need to work toward keeping him around for the foreseeable future.
Unlike some teams who go through reliever after reliever in the hopes of finding one who can handle the duties and the pressure of closing a game out in the ninth inning, Cleveland has one of the best in those situations in Cody Allen.
The Cleveland Indians are more than likely going to consider locking up some more of the their young core players to long-term contracts this winter. It has been their business model, and a successful one at that, over the past few seasons.
Contract extensions to the likes of Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco have been doled out in recent offseasons. Several more names could and should be high on the Tribe’s list of priorities for this winter.
One of those names that may be on the list of Cleveland’s management team is Carlos Santana. His $12 million club option for 2017 was just picked up. He is coming off of a big offensive season, is one of the longer-tenured members of the team, and will only be 31 years old for most of the coming season. The 2017 campaign marks the last one he is under contract for and is currently set to become a free agent following the season.
It has been said that before someone can walk, they first need to learn how to crawl. The Cleveland Indians had been doing that crawling part for the past few years. This year, they started to walk and quickly moved on to an all-out sprint.
The 2013 Tribe, the one that first made an impression on the city of Cleveland, managed to surprise the baseball world and earn a trip to the postseason as an American League Wild Card entrant. That was the beginning of the crawling state. A team that had started coming together in 2010 and took its lumps with several losing seasons under former manager Manny Acta had begun to inch back toward respectability under new manager Terry Francona.
What happened to the Tribe in that one-game postseason showing was a 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. For most of the players on that team, it was their first exposure to being on the national stage in an important, must-win game. Still, getting to that level was the beginning of what would happen with this year’s group that got all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
The Cleveland Indians’ team approach and mentality has gotten the club to the World Series for the first time in 19 years. That win-as-a-team mentality is costly when it comes to arguably the most prestigious individual honor a player can win – the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
The Tribe will likely have top three finalists or winners of the other three major pieces of hardware that get handed out at the start of the offseason, honoring a player’s or coach’s regular season work. Terry Francona is a good bet to win the A.L. Manager of the Year, Tribe ace Corey Kluber has a decent shot at his second league Cy Young Award and outfielder Tyler Naquin is a likely top three contender for Rookie of the Year honors.
However, when it comes to A.L. MVP recognition, Cleveland does not seem to have a big enough dog in the race. The MVP winner usually comes from a playoff team and leads his league or is near the top of a couple of the major offensive categories. Another big thing MVP voters like to see is a player that carried a large burden and put his team on his back for much of the season in getting to the playoffs.
Terry Francona has received much deserved praise this postseason for the way he has masterfully guided the Indians, with an injury-depleted starting pitching rotation, all the way to the World Series.
In watching the drama and excitement that has been a strong, three-week playoff showing, it is easy to forget the energy and excitement the Tribe brought to the 162-game regular season. However, that is where Francona’s mastery truly began this year.
In skippering a team, with numerous key injuries, to a 94-win American League Central Division championship campaign, Cleveland’s bench boss proved to be quite a few steps above the rest of his managing brethren this year in the A.L. While it is stunning that the group of Indians managed to win seven of eight games in the playoffs to earn entry into this season’s World Series, which starts Tuesday, it would be even more stunning if Francona does not earn his second A.L. Manager of the Year Award.
In 2014, Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber went 18-9 with a 2.49 ERA and 269 strikeouts. Those numbers in what was his breakout season earned Kluber the American League Cy Young Award.
This year, Kluber toted the same exact 18-9 record in the regular season. His ERA was a little higher, at 3.14, yet still was among the best in the A.L. and he struck out 227 batters that he faced. He may have even won more games if not for exiting his final start early and missing his final turn in the rotation.
With comparable numbers to that 2014 campaign, it now remains to be seen if The Klubot can take home this season’s hardware as the league’s top pitcher again. There are some major differences between that magical year for Cleveland’s No. 1 starter and this year.
When it comes to the American League Rookie of the Year award, Cleveland Indians history has shown that finishing second or third in the balloting may be better than taking home the hardware as the league’s top first-year player.
Such names as Sandy Alomar, Jr., Joe Charboneau, Chris Chambliss and Herb Score have won the trophy as members of the Tribe. Alomar, Charboneau and Score each had promising careers derailed by injuries. Chambliss was the only one to avoid the curse of winning the AL ROY as an Indian, but he spent the majority of his career with the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves.
In the last 25 years, the likes of Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez and Francisco Lindor each fell just shy of earning enough votes to take home the prize. Lofton would have been a Hall of Famer had he played in any era but the “steroid era.” Ramirez would have been a surefire HOFer if not for testing positive for a banned substance. Lindor just enjoyed a fine second season, as a key player in helping the Indians to their first postseason appearance in three years and first division title in nine summers.
In 16 months, Jose Ramirez had gone from being Mr. Irrelevant to Mr. Irreplaceable.
On June 7, 2015, Ramirez was hitting .180 with no home runs and one RBI in 150 at bats. He was playing shortstop, but everyone knew he was essentially keeping the position warm for future star Francisco Lindor. Lindor would take his spot and never look back when he was called up from Triple-A Columbus as Ramirez was sent back to the minors. Lindor, of course, went on to finish second in last year’s American League Rookie of the Year voting and surged to a strong sophomore season this year.
As for Ramirez, he is doing just fine. In fact, he is now one of the most important players for a club that, on Thursday, will play its first postseason game since a one-game Wild Card showing in 2013 and embark on its first playoff series since the 2007 American League Championship Series.
Maybe all is not lost for the Cleveland Indians starting rotation after all.
It sure seemed bleak eight days ago when No. 2 starter Carlos Carrasco was struck by a line drive and pronounced out for the season with a broken bone in his pitching hand. That came eight days after No. 3 man in the starting five and 2016 All-Star, Danny Salazar, left a game early with tightness in his right forearm. He was not deemed a total loss for the year, but if he can get back for any of Cleveland’s possible postseason appearance, it would likely be as a reliever rather than in his starting role.
Even with ace Corey Kluber pitching well enough to be in the conversation for his second career Cy Young Award, the state of the Tribe’s pitching staff sure seemed dire one week ago.
The Cleveland Indians are in a spot that they have not been in in quite some time. They enter the final two weeks of baseball’s regular season with a good shot at winning the American League Central Division crown and earning a trip to the playoffs. It is a title that they have not held since the 2007 season. It is a playoff that they have not partaken in, aside from 2013’s one-game Wild Card cameo, since that campaign of nine years ago.
This season has been full of ups and downs, to be sure, for the Tribe. The team was riding high on a franchise-record 14-game winning streak to end June and open July. The Indians have been down, as was the case on a recent 2-5 road trip through Oakland and Arlington to play the A’s and Texas Rangers.
However, one constant has remained the same for Cleveland this year. It is something that has alluded the club in recent years and caused the demise of solid Indians teams the last few seasons. That is success within the Central Division. Winning games, in bulk, against their Central Division foes is the main reason the Indians sit at 86-62, with an eight-game lead on second place Detroit with 14 games to play.