2016: Only Here, Only in Cleveland
“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned.” The quote from LeBron James has become a silent mantra for the city of Cleveland and was certainly appropriate for the Indians this season. Monday night proved to be no different as, despite losing starter Trevor Bauer just two outs into the first inning with blood gushing from his stitched together right pinkie finger, the Tribe bullpen combined with four runs of offense to defeat the Blue Jays, 4-2, in Toronto in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
The improbable, incomprehensible, and magical victory for the Indians moved the club just one win from clinching the American League pennant with four chances remaining to drive the final nail into the Blue Jays’ coffin for 2016. As obstacle after obstacle and distraction after distraction has stood menacingly in the way of the Indians this season and again in the postseason, a team of destiny appears not only up to the task of defying the odds, but defeating them in the most unrealistic of ways.
Game 3 of the American League Championship Series is already marred in subplots.
For the Cleveland Indians and their fans, eyes will be on the right pinkie of Trevor Bauer. The 25-year-old right-hander was in the news after needing stitches to close a cut on his fifth digit that forced him out of his scheduled Game 2 start. While he has stated the injury is fine, no one will know for certain how well the finger will hold up until he is on the mound and firing strikes at the Blue Jays lineup, which gets to the other big story line of Monday night’s contest.
In 2014, Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber went 18-9 with a 2.49 ERA and 269 strikeouts. Those numbers in what was his breakout season earned Kluber the American League Cy Young Award.
This year, Kluber toted the same exact 18-9 record in the regular season. His ERA was a little higher, at 3.14, yet still was among the best in the A.L. and he struck out 227 batters that he faced. He may have even won more games if not for exiting his final start early and missing his final turn in the rotation.
With comparable numbers to that 2014 campaign, it now remains to be seen if The Klubot can take home this season’s hardware as the league’s top pitcher again. There are some major differences between that magical year for Cleveland’s No. 1 starter and this year.
Cleveland pitching held the Toronto offense to just three hits and a third inning two-out RBI-single from Francisco Lindor proved to be the difference as the Indians took Game 2 of the ALCS from the Blue Jays, 2-1, on Saturday afternoon.
In what looked to be another dangerous matchup for Josh Tomlin against another team built on the home run ball, the Indians’ veteran right-hander stood up strong to the task and kept the Blue Jays in the yard. Cleveland could not do much against 20-game winner J.A. Happ, but the runs that they got were enough for a big victory to keep home field advantage in the Tribe’s favor.
The underdog Indians claimed a big win on Friday night, riding strong starting pitching and a clutch two-run blast from shortstop Francisco Lindor as Cleveland defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 2-0 to take Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. The Indians will look to take a two game lead in the series when they host the Blue Jays in Game 2 from Progressive Field on Saturday afternoon.
Things are only bound to get more difficult for the Tribe. They shut down a dangerous Blue Jays lineup on Friday and will send an often home run happy pitcher to the mound against a team more than happy to hit home runs. The Jays employ six different regulars who toppled the 20-homer mark over the course of the season and the team is an unlikely candidate to be contained for long. The overlooked Indians offense did not do much in the series opener in a tough matchup with Marco Estrada, but Corey Kluber and company kept the Jays at bay and made the miniscule support by the Tribe bats stand up on a cool October night.
The Indians will need a win to avoid tilting home field advantage in the Blue Jays’ favor, with three games scheduled in Toronto on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
A two-run home run from Francisco Lindor gave the Indians all of the runs that they needed as Cleveland blanked the Toronto Blue Jays, 2-0, in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night.
The city of Cleveland hosted a playoff classic at Progressive Field as the ALCS continued an impressive and exciting run of competitive postseason action across Major League Baseball this October. Corey Kluber and Marco Estrada put on a clinic on the mound, but it was Kluber and the Tribe bullpen who came away victorious while Estrada was dealt a complete game defeat.
For the first time in their collective histories, the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays will meet in the postseason, with the winner’s prize a guaranteed ticket to host the World Series.
The Indians will welcome the Blue Jays back to town for a rare second trip in one season. Progressive Field will be home to Game 1 and Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night and Saturday afternoon before the action heads north of the border to Canada, where Toronto has won twice in walk-off fashion at Rogers Centre in its two home dates since the conclusion of the regular season.
It has been a magic season for each team, as the Indians have had to overcome several significant blows to their roster, causing the losses of a former AL MVP candidate and their starting catcher for the majority of the season and two-fifths of its starting rotation for the playoffs. The Blue Jays had to scratch and claw just to make it into the playoffs, winning the AL Wild Card play-in game against the Baltimore Orioles before sweeping the Texas Rangers in three straight in the ALDS.
In the competitive American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays held their share of the top spot in the division for just over a month of the 2016 schedule. While that run ended on September 6, it did not prevent the team from gaining entrance to the postseason fun as they defeated the Boston Red Sox twice to close out the season to earn a Wild Card entry to the playoffs.
They used an eleventh inning three-run walk-off home run from Edwin Encarnacion against the Baltimore Orioles to earn a 5-2 victory, securing Toronto the right to head to Texas to face the American League’s top club, the Texas Rangers, in the American League Division Series.
The Blue Jays blew by the Rangers in three straight, stealing two victories on the road before winning the clinching game at home in Toronto on Sunday with a 7-6 walk-off in ten innings. Toronto has now won six straight games as the American League Championship Series gets set to start on Friday night.
Throughout the playoffs thus far, there’s been a lot of talk in regards to how the Indians pitching staff may not be strong enough to make it through to the World Series. While this could potentially be true, there’s a key component of this Indians team that could propel them through all of the injuries, and that would be their bullpen.
Coming into the season, there were plenty of question marks surrounding the pen as a whole. In 2015, it was pretty clear that manager Terry Francona loved to rely on his two guys – closer Cody Allen and setup man Bryan Shaw. Allen, appeared in 70 games in 2015 and threw in 69 1/3 innings. Shaw, on the other hand, appeared in 74 games and threw 64 innings.
These two were the anchors of a pen that was fairly questionable through most of the 2015 season. Like most seasons, Tito made a relatively unknown guy amazing in Jeff Manship, just as he had done to Scott Atchison in 2014. Along with them, there was Zach McAllister, Kyle Crockett, and even Trevor Bauer at the end of the season. From time to time we did see guys in the likes of Austin Adams, Shawn Armstrong, and Giovanni Soto.
The Indians went into the All-Star break sitting atop the American League Central with a healthy six and a half game lead. It was a sizeable advantage, but it was just too early in the season to feel that that lead was a safe one. Cleveland had held the number one spot in the division for five weeks, but it seemed a reasonable fear that one of Detroit or Kansas City would find a way to make things a little interesting as the season headed into its final two and a half months.
The city, fresh off of the unfamiliar sight of a championship trophy it could keep, had also enjoyed an Indians franchise record 14-game winning streak, which concluded at the start of July when the Tribe visited Toronto for four games. They sputtered some into the break after that stretch, going 3-6 to end the first half with a 52-36 record. Fans had taken some notice of the club, with the high of the NBA Championship still present, but the distraction of Cavaliers playoff games no longer an issue.
There were those among the Indians viewing audience throughout the first half who were not surprised by Cleveland’s performance in the unofficial first half of the Major League season. But even the most steadfast and positive members of the fan base felt that the roster needed a little something more if it was going to hold off the charges of the division rivals while maintaining the strong first half put up despite a steady flow of adversity.
Instead of sitting idle, or just dipping a toe into the trade pool, the Indians dove in head first.
Last Thursday, for the first time this century, I went to an Indians postseason game.
Admittedly, there haven’t been as many in the past 15 years as there had been in the late 1990s, when October baseball was a matter of course, filling the days during the time the Browns were on hiatus (or, as I like to call it, the three years they were undefeated).
And it certainly didn’t feel like October. Shortly before midnight, the scoreboard thermometer read 70 degrees. But it did feel like October. I went with Chuck (my father, to the uninitiated).
Among the main contributors for the Tribe this season, a few are missing from the postseason roster. Carlos Carrasco is out for the entirety of the playoffs with a broken finger, while Danny Salazar may return in a limited role, possibly in the upcoming ALCS, after suffering a forearm strain last month.
One player who isn’t missing time because of injury is outfielder Abraham Almonte. He was a part of the team’s second half run last year after being acquired in a deadline deal. However, after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug at the start of spring training, he was suspended for the first 80 games of this season. Per a new MLB rule, that meant he could not be a part of the team’s post-season roster.