The Boys of September

Ah, September. Honeycombed with long-standing traditions. Apple-picking. Changing leaves. High school football. The Indians out of contention but suddenly playing as if they aren’t.

Thanks to the absurdity of the second wild card and literally every team in the American League still technically within the boundaries of postseason mathematical reality, the Tribe is still in it after a pretty crummy five months.

In fact, they were declared dead by most a few weeks back. And then at just about that exact moment, began playing well.

Which brings us to the point, for this is an old trope the Tribe occasionally trots out this time of year.

They limp through a maddening season, then just when everybody’s moved on (and more specifically, the Browns fire up their lawnmower of misery), they immediately begin to play their best baseball of the season. Their recent play over the past couple weeks indicates they’ve started a bit early this time.

You could subscribe to the theory that this is a bona fide playoff run. I tend to believe nothing that begins around ten games under the .500 mark can fall into this category. If you were that far away from the pack, you were never really a contender in the first place, September play notwithstanding.

Now, to be fair, there’s plenty to be admired here. First and foremost, that this late surge seems to suggest that the Indians aren’t simply going to pack up the tents and phone in the final month of the season.

But while it seems to have that “cross-the-finish-line-strong” feel about it, more likely, it’s a bit less admirable. A few veterans who’ve been hurt all year finally getting healthy. Smaller crowds (if such a thing is possible at Progressive Field), less media attention, and a ratcheting down of expectations and pressure. Some minor-league guys taking advantage of opponents not yet having a good book on them. And, let’s face it gang, some pure unbridled apathy from the opposite dugout.

Still, it leaves you begging the question (screaming the question, really): just where in the hell was this the rest of the year? Y’know, back when it mattered?

Which isn’t to say that September always provides a funhouse-mirror depiction of the state of the Tribe. The Indians have posted winning records each of the past two Septembers, when they were still in contention for the postseason. But there have been several other recent seasons which have played out similar to this one, then were capped by an artificially flavored September.

2008’s epic and instantly forgettable drive toward the .500 mark is a prime example. As is 2010 and 2002, when the Indians lost 93 and 88 games, respectively, but in each season posted their only winning month in September – the one that mattered the least.

You could argue there’s no real down side to it. Winning baseball – even badly timed winning baseball – is always welcome. Unless, that is, it skews people’s understanding of the state of the team and creates a hollow sense of optimism for the following year.

And – since somebody will no doubt bring it up – let’s put that “finishing strong one season sets the tone for the next” silliness to bed right now. It sounds great, but there’s absolutely no connection between year one and year two, even if the roster stays almost exactly the same. Were that the case, would not the Indians have started 2014 utterly on fire, picking up where they left off from the wonderful finish to 2013? That’s just one of roughly six billion examples that prove the point.

Bottom line, don’t let what happens in September flavor your expectations for 2015. The Indians have much work to do and some gaping holes to fill, primarily in their starting lineup. Finishing with a .500 record would be a satisfying note, but that would in no way atone for some of the jagged issues that have plagued this team all year.

Assuming this keeps up, by all means, enjoy these last few weeks. We all deserve some fun after what’s been a blue-balls type of season.

But don’t let a win in September replace the memory of any number of the Tribe’s nightly faceplants over the last five months.

Photo: USA Today Sports

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