Home is supposed to be where your heart is. A place of good cooking, shelter, a source of peace and advantage. A welcoming and sweet locale that induces sickness when gone from too long.
Instead of appearing homesick, the Indians spent the first four months of their season looking ill and both at odds and at war with their renovated castle, Progressive Field, set on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario in Cleveland.
Being home, for most at least, is supposed to provide a sense of warmth and satisfaction being around those who adore you. Yet in front of their adorning fans, the Indians fared poorly, posting a winning record just one time over the first four months of the season.
A lot of things discussed over the last week on this website have addressed some of the reasons why the Indians stumbled out of the gate and put far too much distance in the standings for them to overcome, even with a valiant effort in the final two months of the season. It could have been failing to bring their best 25 men with them after departing Goodyear, Arizona. It may have been the black hole on the left side of the infield, injuries, the lack of production from overpriced veterans, bullpen breakdowns, a lack of run support, the revolving door that was the back end of the rotation, or a slew of other reasons.
It took monumental effort to correct a 20-32 record at home at the non-waivers trade deadline after play on July 31st to finish the season with a 39-41 (.488) home mark. That poor play at home was a surprise – Progressive Field has been extremely friendly confines for the Tribe since its birth in 1994.
The Tribe earned their fewest number of home wins since 2012, when the club was a dismal 68-94 under Manny Acta and 37-44 (.457) in Cleveland.
The .488 winning percentage this season slots in as the sixth-worst in Jacobs/Progressive Field history. Only 2002 (39-42; .481), 2003 (38-43; .469), 2010 (38-43; .469), 2012, and 2009 (35-46; .432) are worse. In only one of those seasons (2002 – 74) did the club reach at least 70 wins for the year, let alone post the winning record that the team did this season.
In winning 85 games in 2014, the Indians had a 48-33 (.593) record at home. They offset a slow start in April with winning records the rest of the way, albeit in vain. The season before, a 51-30 (.630) at home was their best home mark since 2007 and just one of five times the club has been at or above the .630 mark at season’s end. Both of those latter seasons mark the club’s last two playoff trips, coincidentally enough.
Maybe even more surprising than the sub-.500 record at home this season for the Indians was the lack of walkoff wins. They had just two for the season – a game-winning sacrifice fly from David Murphy and a 16th inning single from Michael Brantley. If that total felt small when the season ended, it was – it was the fewest walkoff victories for the club since they had two in 1991. That squad went a memorable 57-105 and finished just 34 games in back of Toronto in the AL East and owned the worst record in all of baseball.
The walkoff has become a staple of the Progressive Field and Jacobs Field 22-year history. Last season they had eleven, matching the output of 2013. They managed six in that disappointing 2012 season. Their previous season low was three in 2005, when the team was 43-38 at home but was 50-31 on the road on the way to a 93-69 record.
That magic was gone this season, as the team contributed just two more walkoffs to the grand total of 178 such wins over the last 22 seasons. That walkoff win total accounts for a good sum of wins making up the 965-774 (.555) record since its first season in 1994.
To be fair, the Indians turned it around in August, when the course of the season drastically changed direction. Whatever the source for the inspired play over the last two-plus months of the season, the results showed on the Indians’ home field.
After a 2-7 April, 8-7 May, and 5-9 records in both June and July, the Indians were 9-2 in August in Cleveland. September was a little more even with a 7-6 home mark and a 7-7 road mark, but they ended with a 3-1 October at home. It made for one of the handful of times (2005, 2001, 1999) that the club performed better on the road than at home for the year.
The disadvantage of playing at home will have to be addressed swiftly in 2016. Another slow start there and to the season in general could have the Indians playing catch up with the AL champion Kansas City Royals all season. Based on how well that approached worked this season, it would be much better for the Indians to make their home a priority and an advantage once again.
And if for some reason they start off slow at home, at least they will have some time to figure it out – 45 of 81 home dates come over the last three months of the season and they play just nine games at home in April.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer