Baseball has a problem staring it in the face and no more obvious is that dilemma apparent than at the downtown Cleveland offices of the franchise soon-to-be remembered as the Indians.
Plenty of uncertainty loomed over the state of the Major League Baseball landscape with the persistent public squabbles that put the 2020 season in jeopardy due to the safety and logistical concerns created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic plaguing the country beginning ten months ago. While owners and players were ultimately able to get in 60 unattended regular season games at a financial loss, the ramifications of the lost revenues cast a gray cloud over the game as teams have had to adapt and adjust to the changed marketplace. The disjointed relationships between owners and players and the fiscal damages sustained, plus the wrecking ball smashed into the minor league system, all spell some unpleasant feelings about how negotiations may transpire as time ticks away on baseball’s most recent collective bargaining agreement, set to expire on December 1 of this year.
As for the Cleveland baseball club, the efforts of the front office this offseason seem to spell out both doom and gloom as the perennial playoff contending roster has been systematically dismantled for cheaper alternatives while once again putting the organization in a negative spotlight. Most recently in the news for its decision to rebrand for 2022 in the sake of political correctness, now the Dolan-led front office group is being criticized for having an active team salary base that is less than individual one-year commitments that teams have made to several dozens of the game’s brightest stars. Thursday’s trade of future big earner Francisco Lindor and moderate investment Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets further highlighted the Indians’ extensive cost-cutting efforts.
If the team was looking to roll out “Pennypinchers”, “Scrooges”, or “Misers” as its new moniker moving forward, it has hit the ground running in embracing the name.
Cleveland fans were warned in March of 2019 to “enjoy him”, but the long anticipated move finally happened on Thursday as the Indians announced the trade of four-time All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor to the New York Mets.
Joining Lindor in relocating to Queens was starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco, the longest tenured representative of the franchise and a fan favorite after his public battle with leukemia two seasons ago. His name was floated about some during the Winter Meetings, but with several years of control at what was perceived as a reasonable cost, his inclusion frees up significant finances over the next few years from a position of strength in the Indians organization. The Indians have previously over the last several years dealt from the starting rotation, removing Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, and Corey Kluber for packages of prospects or just general salary relief.
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.
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.
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.
Zach Plesac got back on track on Friday night, shutting down Detroit for seven and two-thirds innings while making some baseball history, and the Cleveland bullpen secured the final four outs with a couple of scares along the way as the Indians blanked the Tigers in a 1-0 contest.
Plesac’s case for the number two starter in the Tribe’s potential playoff rotation was strengthened with an impressive effort all around in the second of four games from Detroit’s Comerica Park this weekend. He made a season-high 112 pitches, throwing 76 for strikes with 21 swings and misses throughout the evening. That helped him to amass eleven strikeouts of Tigers hitters, matching his career-best established in his first start of the season against the Chicago White Sox on July 29. He walked one batter and allowed just five hits while keeping the Tigers in check all night. It marked Plesac’s seventh straight start this season of six innings or more and his fifth start overall allowing one run or less in a day’s work.
This is a big weekend for the Cleveland Indians. With a chance to face a team that they have had good luck with over the last couple of years, it may be just what the doctor ordered to cure all that ails the team’s struggles and depressed disposition.
The Indians (26-23), as you likely know by now, have lost eight straight contests during series with the Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, and Chicago Cubs. Losses against a young Royals team was a bad look and the team missed some big opportunities to gain some ground in what once was a tightly contested American League Central during their series with the Twins. The Indians lost both games to the Cubs in walk-off fashion while showing some glimmers of hope that they would emerge from this losing skid before the end of the season. Those losses dropped them six games in back of the first place Chicago White Sox.
When things are going bad, teams have a tendency of finding new ways to lose. That was exactly the case on Tuesday night in Chicago, where the visiting Clevelanders lost on a bases loaded hit by pitch in the bottom of the ninth to give the Cubs a 6-5 walk-off victory.
Trailing by a 5-3 count in the top of the ninth, the Indians pulled off a rally that felt improbable given the club’s play of late. Facing closer Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Naylor walked on five pitches. Delino DeShields, with three hits to his credit already on the night, grounded slowly to third to move the runner into scoring position. Jeffress fell behind Francisco Lindor 2-0 before the Tribe shortstop caught a sinker thigh-high and out over the plate. He lofted a fly ball the opposite way and just over the left field wall to tie the game at five. Mike Freeman followed with a walk before Jose Ramirez grounded into a double play.
The pressure is on the Cleveland Indians to figure out all that plagues them presently and they will be tasked with doing so against a World Series contender in the Chicago Cubs in a pair of games at Wrigley Field this week.
The Indians (26-21) find themselves in a bad place at the moment. Despite the offense picking up some on Sunday, the team blew a decent early lead to drop a sixth straight ball game when they were swept by the Minnesota Twins. Coupled with a Chicago White Sox win on Monday over those same Twins, the Indians are five games out of first place in the American League Central and three games in back of Minnesota with 13 games to play in the 2020 slate.
Where, oh where, have the Cleveland Indians gone?
I’ll tell you where. To the very bottom of the American League playoff bracket. Oh, and by the way, things won’t get any easier for the Tribe this week when they face off with National League Cy Young candidate Yu Darvish on Tuesday and tough left-hander Jon Lester on Wednesday in a pair of games against one of the leading squads in the Senior Circuit in the Chicago Cubs.
It’s been a bad week for the Tribe, without a doubt. Defense faltered early in the week, the offense sputtered (but this isn’t necessarily a new thing this season), and the pitching staff made the weekend set with Minnesota look more like a special Twins edition of Home Run Derby. They did their part to waken the “Bomba Squad”.
The “Bomba Squad” was back at it again at Target Field on Sunday as the Minnesota bats drove three out of the park against starter Triston McKenzie to overcome an early three-run deficit and tacked on a fourth blast for good measure as the Twins swept the Cleveland Indians with a 7-5 final.
The Indians pitching staff has been so good for much of the season, but this weekend served as a sufficient reminder that the team was going to need some offense to make any real noise come playoff time. The bats woke up slowly on Saturday and had ample opportunity on Sunday to try to support the pitching staff, but a home run barrage from the Twins lineup for the third straight day proved to be too much for the Tribe offense to contend with as the team’s tailspin continued with a sixth straight defeat.