The Indians entered this week with postseason hopes still a reality. Then the team suffered back-to-back defeats at home that were disappointing on multiple levels.
A 12-3 trouncing at the hands of baseball’s best team, the Angels, followed by a 4-3 loss to one of the game’s worst in the Twins put the Tribe’s postseason hopes on life support. The Tigers or Royals will have to begin losing serious steam while the Indians get on a roll that they have not been on all season in order to see October baseball at this point.
So, that means it is time to abandon ship and look forward to next season, right?
Well, maybe not. Despite exceedingly slim postseason hopes, the Indians are still a team worth watching for multiple reasons. For one, the Tribe has been fielding a number of young players who have helped to keep the Indians competitive amid trades and injuries. It is a group that should be fun to watch the rest of this season as well as years to come.
However, for the moment, let’s keep the focus on this season. The Indians currently sit at 76-69. Barring a complete collapse over the season’s final couple weeks, the Tribe should finish above .500 for a second straight season. This would be a major accomplishment for not only the Indians, but for Cleveland sports, in general.
Seasons ending with a team over the break-even mark simply do not happen a lot in Cleveland. When the Indians finished 92-70 it was the first time ANY Cleveland team had finished a year over .500 since the LeBron James-led Cavaliers of 2009-2010. Yes, Clevelanders suffered through more than three years and eight miserable losing campaigns from the three major sports teams, combined.
Having a second straight season of more wins than losses would put the Indians in rarefied air this city. Teams simply do not seem to enjoy that kind of sustained success in small-market, and free-agent-lacking, Cleveland.
When the Cavs last finished over .500, 61-21, in 2010 it was their sixth straight season pulling off that feat. The last time the Indians followed a winning campaign was in 2001. The Tribe went 91-71. It capped a run of eight straight plus-.500 years that began in 1994 and served as the team’s glory years. The Indians came close to turning the back-to-back trick in 2008, but came up just short coming in right at .500, 81-81, in 2008 after the 2007 ALCS season. We are talking OVER .500 here. As for the Browns, the last time the struggling franchise followed one winning campaign with another was in 1989, ending a run of four such marvelous seasons.
Clearly, ending a year with more wins than losses is no small chore for any of Cleveland’s teams. The Indians stand a good chance to keep the winning ways going this year. For that reason alone, it is not time to check out on the baseball season and hibernate on the sport for the winter.
A more important reason to stay in tune with the 2014 Tribe is because of the players who will be guiding the Good Ship Indians to a possible second consecutive winning year. Almost all of the core players are under 30 and under team control for the next several seasons or more. This means the core of the squad that went to the American League Wild Card last year and will likely finish with 82 or more victories this season will be growing and getting better for quite some time.
When the club traded away former ace Justin Masterson, former closer John Axford, former setup man Vinnie Pestano and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and then when Nick Swisher and David Murphy got hurt, it opened the door for young players to show what they could do. To this point, the influx of talent from Triple-A Columbus has shown itself well and kept the Indians in contention longer than anyone could have imagined.
Catcher Roberto Perez, shortstop Jose Ramirez, utility guys Zach Walters and Tyler Holt, starters T.J. House, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, and relievers the likes of Kyle Crockett and C.C. Lee were afforded the opportunities to help the big league club due to injuries, trades and ineffectiveness of other players, and have all shown well for themselves.
That group has shown they should be strong contributors, in one way or another, for quite some time. They join a core group of other young players in Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, Jason Kipnis, Trevor Bauer, Lonnie Chisenhall, Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and eventually Francisco Lindor, as a strong group that should be around a while. Looking ahead, the only regulars over 30 will be Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, as well as key reliever Scott Atchison.
Add it all up and you have a young, talented group looking for a second winning season. It is a group that should only get better with age and experience. Watching this team keep growing and chasing another strong finish with an above-.500 season should be plenty of reason to keep watching this 2014 club – even if the team is unable to pull off the nearly impossible task of getting back into the postseason hunt.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images