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.
This season did not turn out the way the Indians had anticipated when they started 2014. Playoff dreams remained just that, dreams, and despite their overall winning record, the team still ended their season without ever seeing an October game.
However, not every player who started on the Indians’ roster ended their season in that same way. The Indians parted with three well-known and long-term players this season who were able to move farther in the post season that they would have in an Indians’ uniform. While none are playing in the Fall Classic right now, it’s still worth it to give these departed players a nod and recap their seasons:
In 2011 and 2012 the Cleveland Indians had a bullpen that was good enough to develop a nickname. The 2014 Tribe bullpen does not have any special monikers but may well be better than those pens that were the backbone of struggling baseball teams.
After a 2013 season of bullpen question marks and implosions, the Indians are enjoying a fantastic relief season this year. The pen is again arguably the strongest and deepest part of the club, this time a club that will go into September with playoff aspirations still alive.
Cleveland’s relief corps of 2011 and ’12 called themselves the Bullpen Mafia. Both seasons saw five relievers put up strong numbers. Those groups were headed by closer Chris Perez and setup men Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith. For two seasons, that trio was as good as any late-game group in the game. In 2011, Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez put up good numbers to complement the group. In 2012, it was Frank Herrmann and Esmil Rogers.
On a night Cleveland was looking for a home run move to put themselves back on the basketball map, the Yankees used the long ball to their advantage.
While Cleveland waits to learn Lebron James’ decision, the Indians continued their four game series with the New York Yankees. Wednesday night the Yankees used three home runs to swing their way back from an early deficit and another in the 14th inning to win the game, 5-4.
Cleveland started the game with an offensive outburst against new Yankee starter, Brandon McCarthy. Jason Kipnis singled to start the bottom of the first inning. After Asdrubal Cabrera flied out, Michael Brantley singled to left field to put a pair on. An errant throw by Mark Teixeira on Carlos Santana’s grounder left the bases loaded with just one out. Lonnie Chisenhall helped the Indians get on the scoreboard when he grounded out to second base. All the base runners moved up a base and the Indians led, 1-0. Nick Swisher remained hot and singled to right field, plating two more runs and the Tribe led 3-0 after one inning.
It was a welcome sight for Indians’ fans last week, as they watched Vinnie Pestano perform his signature sprint from the bullpen to the mound on Friday, June 21, versus the Detroit Tigers. It was 72 days since his last appearance on the big league stage, having tossed his last pitch for the Tribe on April 8 against the San Diego Padres.
Pestano has long been a fan-favorite for Clevelanders, based on both his performances on the mound and his interactions with fans. His strong numbers – like allowing 20 runs throughout the entire 2012 season and posting a 2.57 ERA – attracted fans, but it was his jokes on Twitter were won what them over. He was a constant for Indians’ fans, a pitcher they could count on, both on and off the field.
However, that love wore thin towards the end of last season and the beginning of 2014, as the Pestano that fans came to know and rely on on the mound seemed to crumble before their eyes.
Akron RubberDucks second baseman was some kind of hot this past week. Joe Wendle went 11-21 for an obscene .524 average with three runs scored, three doubles, one triple, eight runs batted in and added a stolen base. Wendle got off to a slow start to the season having multiple hot and cold streaks. Over his last 26 games, however, Wendle has been consistently hot hitting .333 with eight extra base hits and 24 runs batted in during the time frame. Wendle leads the team with 41 runs batted in, one more than fellow prospect shortstop Francisco Lindor. Wendle has his batting average up to .264 with his recent surge but is still well below his career .307 minor league average coming into the season.
Wendle a sixth round pick in 2012 out of West Chester University has some uncanny similarities to a current Indians star Jason Kipnis. Both Kipnis and Wendle are listed at 5’11 190lbs, both bat left-handed and throw with their right hand. Take a look at the stats for both players in their first two years in the minor leagues.
With all of the turnover in the Cleveland Indians bullpen, there were plenty of questions about how the relief corps would look as the team entered the 2014 season.
The concerns were clearly elevated after losing two-fifths of the successful 2013 starting rotation in the offseason free agency period. Looming questions about the potential growth of Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister post-finger injuries, the development of young flame thrower Danny Salazar, the unknown potential of Carlos Carrasco, and Justin Masterson in a contract year all spelled the need for a strong bullpen to complement the rotation arms.
Gone were a pair of mainstays from the “Bullpen Mafia” of years’ past. Closer Chris Perez struggled through injuries and off the field concerns throughout 2013 and ultimately lost his role as the ninth inning shutdown pitcher as the team was racing towards the postseason. He was let go by the Tribe in late October. Late inning righty Joe Smith exited via free agency after a 6-2 record with three saves and a 2.29 ERA in 70 games for Cleveland, his third straight season of 70 games or more.
This week’s demotion of fan favorite reliever Vinnie Pestano by the Cleveland Indians was hardly a surprise after the once steady arm at the backend of the Tribe bullpen had faltered out of the gate for the second straight season.
Pestano’s issues on the mound have been thrust more and more into the limelight. This season, he appeared in three games, allowing earned runs in each appearance. In his last outing against San Diego in an 8-3 game, Pestano coughed up three runs in the ninth inning and was unable to finish the frame. At the time of his demotion, he was the only Indians reliever to allow an earned run and had given up six runs in total in two and two-thirds innings. Opposing hitters were batting .500 off of him.
It’s Cleveland, it’s April, it’s finally baseball season. And while Indians’ fans everywhere are excited that the magic is back at Progressive Field, the traditional bit of fan negativity that surrounds the Indians every year seems to be back, as well.
“This guy is our ace?” fans said of Justin Masterson during his last outing against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday. “Hey Vinnie, this is the weather in Columbus right now,” were the snarky comments of others written after Vinnie Pestano recently struggled on the mound. The wishes that Josh Tomlin had been the fifth starter instead of Carlos Carrasco were seen as well, along with the criticisms of David Murphy’s and Nyjer Morgan’s early performances.
It seems to be only a matter of time before fans are lamenting, “There’s always next year.”
In a game of young starters, looking to solidify themselves in a big league rotation, it was the younger of the two shining on a sunny, but frigid afternoon at Progressive Field.
The Minnesota Twins took advantage of 27-year old Carlos Carrasco, in his 41st big league start, in the first three innings to even the series with a 7-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians. Meanwhile, the Tribe could not get the timely hit against 26-year old Kyle Gibson, making just his 11th big league start. Both Carrasco and Gibson fought off contenders to earn spots as the fifth starter in the rotation out of spring training. The Indians bats did not come alive until the bottom of the ninth inning when they mounted a late rally.
Corey Kluber had a rough outing in Oakland and the Indians offense could never seem to get going as the Indians fall to the Athletics, 6-1.
While Cleveland was experiencing nearly perfect weather for baseball, the same couldn’t be said in Oakland on Tuesday, turning today into the first day-night doubleheader in Oakland in franchise history. The Indians were fitting opponents as they did not tally a run until the ninth inning.