2018: Still Rallying Together
The Indians’ quick playoff exit has led to a lot of 20-20 hindsight, deals that in retrospect could have been made and should have been made.
And watching some of the players who remained in the playoffs has done nothing to make those thoughts abate.
The most glaring example – his statements on his hustle aside – remains Manny Machado, who would have filled in capably in the infield, and his bat would have been a welcome addition in a lineup that was starting to wilt as the regular season ended and then was completely stymied by the Astros in the Division Series. But he probably would have been nothing more than a rental for the remainder of the season.
After several years of boasting one of the game’s best bullpens, including the 2016 version that nearly carried the club to a World Series championship, the Cleveland Indians’ bullpen took a major nose dive this past season.
The Tribe’s 2018 ‘pen was among the worst in the game. The unit’s 4.60 ERA was 25th out of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams. Among the five groups lower, only the Colorado Rockies were a playoff team. The Mets, Orioles, Royals, and Marlins had disastrous seasons.
Cleveland’s ‘pen was not able to submarine its regular season, though there were times it seemed it could. However, if the the Indians are to return to the 102-win level they were at in 2017 or the championship-caliber level they appeared to be at the past few years, they will need a return to prominence from the relief corps.
Last Friday marked the anniversary of the last time a championship parade rolled through the streets of Cleveland in honor of the city’s Indians. A week and a half ago, the Tribe’s 70th season since winning its second title came to a crashing and demoralizing halt as the Houston Astros closed Progressive Field for the season with a brutal 11-3 win to complete a three-game American League Division Series sweep of the Indians.
The gut-wrenching dismantling of the Indians on their home field left the visiting clubhouse doused in beer, champagne, and excitement for a road squad for a third straight season.
During the six-year tenure of manager Terry Francona, the Cleveland Indians outfield has been a work in progress, piecemealed together and full of platoons for much of that time. That has been especially true during the club’s three consecutive division championships seasons.
The quest to try and put together an outfield befitting a team with title aspirations is not going to end any time soon. In fact, the jobs of President Chris Antonetti and General Manager Mike Chernoff could be even harder this offseason than the past few.
The last couple of winters, the outfield buzz often centered around whether or not Michael Brantley would be healthy or not. However, at least when he was on the field, there was no doubt who would play left field on an everyday basis.
The postseason hangover in Cleveland has extended all the way to Arizona for the Indians organization, as the team’s participants on the shared roster of the Glendale Desert Dogs have taken four straight losses to open the Arizona Fall League schedule.
Seven Indians prospects are members of the Desert Dogs club, joining representatives from the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, and New York Yankees. Glendale is winless at 0-4 to start the season, which began Tuesday from the desert. They trail the first place Surprise Saguaros by three games in the AFL West Division.
The Indians have sent four pitchers – Justin Garza, Rob Kaminsky, Jared Robinson, and Dalbert Siri – and three position players – Yu Chang, Li-Jen Chu, and Connor Marabell – to Arizona for offseason work. Joining them in Glendale is Double-A Akron pitching coach Rigo Beltran.
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.”
Seventy seasons of Indians baseball are in the books since that October 1948 parade, and still the Commissioner’s Trophy eludes the city of Cleveland. But hey, at least the city gets to host its sixth All-Star Game next July.
There were some along the way who felt that the Cleveland Indians just did not belong in the elite class of the American League bracket of the Major League Baseball playoffs this season. After sleepwalking through a pathetic schedule against the worst division in the game and failing to show up for 27 innings of baseball in an embarrassing three-game sweep at the hands of the reigning champs and juggernaut Houston Astros, maybe there’s something to that logic.
But there were also those who had higher expectations for the AL Central champions of the last three years. Some eyed an Indians-Dodgers 1920 rematch or, Fox’s worst nightmare, an Indians-Brewers pairing as potential outcomes of October baseball this year. Some felt that the winner of the Cleveland-Houston matchup would be the team to beat, the surefire American League champion primed to steamroll the senior circuit. On paper, the Indians had All-Stars littered across the field, and maybe the team was saving more inspired play that was lacking across the regular season slate for a deep postseason run, because the zombie stroll through the regular season against a barrage a sub-.500 teams sure made the team look ill-prepared when the American League Division Series started last weekend.
The tables have turned dramatically on the Cleveland Indians while playing in their third consecutive American League Division Series. After sweeping the Boston Red Sox in 2016 and winning the first two games of the set last season against the New York Yankees, the Indians find themselves in an 0-2 hole against the reigning champions, the Houston Astros. Cleveland will host Game 3 on Monday, and if the Indians can pull out a victory, Game 4 will take place from Progressive Field on Tuesday.
The series has not gone well for the Indians thus far. Key hitters have slumped and the team as a whole has managed just six hits through the first two contests against a notably tough Astros pitching staff. Four different batters have gone hitless in the series. The starters have given up six walks in ten innings of work, and the bullpen has surrendered four runs in six innings.
First, the bad news: the Cleveland Indians are in a 0-2 hole in their best-of-five ALDS with the Houston Astros. They face a win-or-go-home game on Monday afternoon.
As for the good news? Well, other than the biggest game of their season being at home, it may well be that the guy on the mound could be just the guy that the Indians need to kick-start what they hope will be three straight must-win games.
For the third season in a row, there will be meaningful October baseball for the Cleveland Indians organization. The American League Division Series will kick off Friday afternoon from Minute Maid Park where the Houston Astros will play host in their quest for a second straight World Series title.
For the Indians (91-71), it was an underwhelming season in an easy division as the American League Central crown was nearly awarded them in spring training. While the cakewalk schedule may have led to mixed results throughout the season, the offense still wowed with the third-most runs scored in the game (818, trailing only Boston and New York) while the team put up a strong +170 run differential. The bats struck out the fewest times in baseball and on the base paths the team picked off 135 bases to lead the Majors. The Indians play with extra motivation, looking to make up for their disappointing first round exit after losing a 2-0 lead a season ago in the ALDS against the New York Yankees.
On August 31, the Indians acquired one-time MVP third baseman Josh Donaldson from the Toronto Blue Jays as Cleveland was wrapping up a 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. The next day, one of the key players displaced by the move, Jason Kipnis, pinch-hit in the ninth inning and in dramatic fashion hit a solo home run in his first at bat as a man being forced out of his regular job.
It marked one of several special moments for one of the longer tenured members of the Tribe and a player who at times has been referred to as a leader in the clubhouse and one of the beating hearts of the Indians. Rumored to be a candidate for relocation in the offseason when Cleveland could have gone with Jose Ramirez at second base and Yandy Diaz or Gio Urshela at third, Kipnis remained in town for his eighth season with the Tribe, to the chagrin of some and the delight of others.
Two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber is the unquestioned ace of the Cleveland Indians starting pitching rotation. Trevor Bauer was having a Cy-worthy season of his own before taking a line drive off his leg in August and missing five weeks. He is back and looking to get back to his pre-injury form in time for the playoffs, which start Friday.
Almost lost in the hysteria of one Cy Young winner and one who may have been is Carlos Carrasco. A top-of-the-rotation pitcher in his own right, Cookie was a Cy Young candidate last season, finishing fourth in the American League voting. He could be Top 5 again this season. Yet, he almost seems like a forgotten man in his own starting five.