2020: Pandemic Pandemonium
Even with the shortened 60-game regular season and a brief two-game playoff stint, I needed a break from coverage of the Cleveland Indians (also, some grueling hours at the job that pays the bills over the last couple of weeks made time for writing minimal). An underwhelming offseason the winter before, mixed results during the 2020 campaign, and an abysmal showing in the expanded playoff format a few weeks ago piled on to make it tough to put my thoughts into appropriate family-friendly terms. The step away helped to give me some prerogative on what transpired over the course of the last couple of months, but does not give me a lot of happy vibes about what is in store for the Indians’ organization in the months and years ahead.
Obviously, the 2020 season didn’t go as planned for anybody. Spring Training ramped up in February and was near its conclusion in March when the coronavirus began to truly run rampant across the United States, slamming the door on nearly all non-essential activities. After an uncomfortable amount of bickering as to the length of a shortened schedule shined an unpleasant light on future labor negotiations in the not-so-distant future between players and ownership, baseball returned for Spring Training 2.0. The shortened 60-game slate of games was pulled off, with only a handful of glitches in particular hot spots across the MLB landscape. Playoff bubbles were implemented to help conclude play and, shockingly to some, the World Series started Tuesday from Arlington, Texas, where the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers began the final leg of their championship pursuits, one which may come with an asterisk next to it in the annals of baseball history.
As for the Indians, this season is another “what if” story in the 120-year history of American League play on the shores of Lake Erie.
Burn on, big river, burn on.
In what will likely be his final inning in an Indians uniform, Brad Hand blew his first save of the season and handed the Yankees a pair of runs in the top of the ninth as New York rallied in a messy, ugly, crazy game to defeat Cleveland, 10-9.
The city of Cleveland got 75 minutes of October baseball and was dealt a devastating first round exit for the third time in four years as the Indians could not hold off the pesky New York baseball team, which got healthy just in time to spoil any hopes for the Indians to end a 72-year championship drought in the realm of Major League Baseball.
The Indians went off-script on Tuesday from what had worked all season long and the results were undebatable as the New York Yankees rocked Cleveland’s Shane Bieber for a season-worst seven runs in rolling the host Tribe in a 12-3 statement game.
Instead of what was hyped as the top pitching matchup of the eight postseason contests slated to start the 2020 Major League Baseball playoffs, fans watched a stunning exchange as the likely unanimous American League Cy Young winner lost his duel with New York’s Gerrit Cole, whose $324 million rebuttal on the mound included 13 strikeouts, six hits allowed, and two runs scattered over seven innings of dominance.
The Cleveland Indians make their return to the postseason this week as the fourth seed in the eight-team format specially implemented for this pandemic-shortened season. The Indians will host the series in Cleveland for the only time allowed in the bracket system, with the rival New York Yankees coming to town for a battle to two wins in the three-game American League Wild Card Series.
The Indians (35-25) used some home field magic over the course of the last week of the regular season, jumping from the seventh seed to the fourth seed on the final day of play with a big come-from-behind victory on Sunday to take two of three from the Pittsburgh Pirates on the heels of a four-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox. The better results down the stretch earned the team the right to host the first round Wild Card Series from Progressive Field, as opposed to having to travel for road matchups in Chicago, Minnesota, or Oakland that may not have been as favorable for the Tribe.
There will be at least two more games at Progressive Field this season, as the Indians, using a pair of three-run innings in the sixth and seventh, rallied back to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the season finale from downtown Cleveland on Sunday.
Combined with the White Sox’s 10-8 loss against the crosstown Chicago Cubs (despite a large late rally that brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth), the Indians have clinched the fourth spot in the American League playoff bracket and will host the New York Yankees in the best-of-three AL Wild Card round beginning Tuesday.
An emotionally charged week may have left the Cleveland Indians a little empty on Saturday as the Pittsburgh Pirates outperformed them in all facets in an 8-0 shutout.
With the Pirates playing for seeding in their pursuits of the top pick in next July’s draft at the end of their year, the Indians had some things at stake entering the penultimate game of the 2020 regular season slate. The division title was still up for grabs, but was going to require a sweep of the Pirates while the Cincinnati Reds were going to need to sweep the Minnesota Twins, which would have put the Indians in position for the second or third spot in the bracket. If that fell through, the Indians could still beat out the Chicago White Sox for the second spot in the American League Central, which would net them the fourth seed against the New York Yankees. A couple of losses would drop the Indians to the seventh spot ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays, forced to travel to either Oakland or to the site of the AL Central victors.
No-hit for more than six innings by Pittsburgh, the Cleveland Indians made their handful of late hits count as they rallied for three runs in the ninth inning to steal a 4-3 win from the Pirates on Friday night.
The stunning comeback by the Indians (34-24) moved the club back into second place as their late season charge up the standings has altered the American League playoff picture significantly. Winning for the sixth straight time, the Indians used three runs in the ninth inning to capitalize against Pittsburgh after wasting a small village of free base runners that came courtesy of Pirates top prospect Mitch Keller as part of a stat line that was hard to believe.
Will these be the final three home games of the 2020 season for the Cleveland Indians?
The Indians (33-24) are playing their best baseball of the season and the timing could not be more perfect as the team prepares for a return to the postseason for the first time since 2018. The Indians have won five straight games and took a wrecking ball to the American League playoff bracket by sweeping four consecutive games from the Chicago White Sox during the week to knock them out of the top spot in the AL Central. The Indians will need some luck to claim the divisional crown as they would need to sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates over the weekend while relying on the Cincinnati Reds, playoff bound themselves, to take all three games against the Minnesota Twins. The Indians enter the day two games behind the Twins, which holds the tie breaker between the two teams, while the Tribe sits one game behind the White Sox for the second spot in the division.
The Cleveland Indians continued to wreak havoc on the American League playoff bracket on Thursday, using a four-run outburst in the seventh trailing three runs to complete a four-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox in a 5-4 final from Progressive Field.
Four-game sweeps are hard to pull off under any circumstance, but especially against a division rival which entered the weekday series sitting in the top spot in the American League Central. The Indians pulled off another victory with more late inning heroics, using a big rally Thursday on the heels of back-to-back walk-off wins in the middle games of the series to deal a significant blow to the White Sox’s pursuit of the division crown.
Shane Bieber’s meteoric rise from pitching prospect just a few years ago to a bona fide Cy Young and Pitching Triple Crown candidate this season has truly been something to watch.
Bursting on the scene with a solid 11-5 showing in 20 games during his rookie season in 2018, Bieber really started to catch some eyes last year. He had a stellar first half, named to his first American League All-Star team as a replacement, then struck out the side in a stunning effort in the exhibition contest at Progressive Field that July while taking home the game’s Most Valuable Player honors, the first by an Indians player since Sandy Alomar Jr. also did it in a home contest in 1997. Bieber finished the year with a 15-8 record in 34 games, posting a 3.28 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP with 259 strikeouts in 214 1/3 innings of work. He led the league with 1.7 walks per nine innings and led all of baseball with three complete games and two shutouts.
Jordan Luplow played the hero on Wednesday, giving the Cleveland Indians their fourth consecutive win and their second straight walk-off victory in a 3-2 final over the Chicago White Sox.
With a history of mashing against the White Sox, Luplow stepped to the dish against Chicago left-hander Gio Gonzalez in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied, 2-2. After a grounder to short by pinch-hitter Delino DeShields, Gonzalez fell behind 3-0 to Luplow, who had struck out in each of his first three at bats on the night. The next offering to the Tribe outfielder was a meatball down the middle and Luplow mashed it onto the Home Run Porch with a no-doubt-about-it walk-off shot, giving the Indians the 3-2 win.
Seven of Luplow’s 17 homers with the Indians in the last two seasons have come against the White Sox. It was his first career walk-off homer.
In one of the most anticlimactic playoff pursuits in the 120-year history of the Cleveland Indians franchise, Jose Ramirez found a way to make it a little extra special on Tuesday night. Ramirez’s three-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning capped a four-run frame and sent the Indians home a 5-3 walk-off winner on Tuesday night, reducing the team’s magic number for a postseason berth to zero in memorable fashion.
The Indians fell behind two runs in the top of the tenth inning as the White Sox knocked in a pair against reliever Phil Maton to break a 1-1 tie. Designated runner James McCann opened the inning at second and watched as Maton won an eight-pitch exchange with Luis Robert, punching out the young star for out number one. Adam Engel, better known for his defensive work than his bat, worked the count full before driving the seventh pitch of his at bat to the gap for an RBI-triple, putting the White Sox on top for the first time on the night, 2-1. Nick Madrigal singled through the pulled in infield to score Engel to make it 3-1 before Maton got out of the inning.