The Indians’ moves lately – at least, the ones they’ve been making – have caused me to relive the 2016 World Series. And I don’t like it one damn bit.
The Indians are making some moves, but probably not as many as we’d like. As it stands now, this Indians team is no better than the one that ended the season ignominiously with a sweep by the Astros in the American League Division Series. (It is my fervent hope that the Indians aren’t done making offseason moves, but it feels like that’s starting to border on delusion.)
The shutdown bullpen that the Indians had to rely on because of a sudden lack of starting pitching? All gone. Andrew Miller’s in St. Louis. Bryan Shaw left for Colorado before the 2018 season. Cody Allen is a free agent.
There are no more parties at Napoli’s. Mike Napoli formally announced his retirement as a player last month. Rajai Davis, the other key free agent acquisition in 2016, signed with the Mets last month.
Edwin Encarnacion – the power hitter signed after the 2016 season who was supposed to put the Tribe over the top – is gone in a salary dump. But his departure brought the return of Carlos Santana, and if there’s one indelible image from that postseason for me, it’s him dropping to his knees after catching the final out that sent the Tribe to the World Series. Yan Gomes is gone now too, as is Michael Brantley, both of whom were non-factors in 2016, but rebounded for the Indians the following two years.
After the 2016 World Series, like pretty much everyone else in Northeast Ohio, I was crestfallen. But I still was optimistic. If the team could go to extra innings of Game 7 with a two-and-a-half man rotation, and without key contributions from players like Brantley, what could they do over the next couple years?
As it turns out, nowhere near as much as I’d hoped. The Indians assembled a 22-game win streak the following year to finish with 102 wins – just the second time the Tribe won more than 100 games in a season. And like that other year – 1954 – it ended with a thud. A 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series – especially after an extra-innings win in Game 2 that should have been absolutely crushing for the Yankees – evaporated as the Yankees won the next three, including a deciding Game 5 in Cleveland with Corey Kluber on the mound. Here’s a dubious piece of trivia for you: None of the four best regular seasons in Indians history ended with a championship. The 1954 Indians won 111 games and were swept in the World Series by the Giants. The 2017 Indians, well, we just went over that. The 1995 Indians, who won 100 games, lost the World Series to the Braves, and the next year’s team, which won 99 games, lost in the Division Series to the Orioles.
Last year’s team won the division almost by default, and their postseason stay was a brief one. I realize that last season aside, the best team doesn’t always win the World Series. And I know that sometimes, it comes down to a couple hot bats or some shutdown pitching, and the Indians have the potential for either of those in the postseason. But absent some more moves, I’m not filled with any kind of optimism.