It’s September, and that means the playoff races are heating up in Major League Baseball. However, not everyone makes it to the promised land. Tom Wright tells us what went right and what went wrong in the elimination of the Cleveland Indians.
The Indians season was basically a better version of the season that the Boston Red Sox had, which makes sense when you consider that the Clevelands manager is basically a better version of the Red Sox one(s).
The start of the season went badly. The Indians muddled through April, going 7-14 as they began to realize that veterans like Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher shouldn’t be in a lineup every day. Cleveland had a slightly better May, but June and July were awful, and attendance had dwindled to a trickle (Progressive Field had its worst-attended year since 2010). On July 28, following a disastrous sweep at the hands of the lowly White Sox, the Indians were among the worst teams in the league, stuck with a 45-58 record that put them just two games out of last place in the entire American League.
At the trade deadline, the Indians engaged in a fake sell-off, announcing that the selling window was open for business but only selling those players that had little value to a major league club and no future with the Indians. The Tribe improbably found willing takers for several such players, and so Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn were sent to the Braves, David Murphy went to the Angels, Brandon Moss was shipped to the Cardinals and Mark Rzepczynski relocated to San Diego. The returns for those players was surprisingly good (starting center fielder Abraham Almonte, prospect Rob Kaminsky and two fairly warm bodies), but, honestly, a hard drive full of cat pictures would have been a good return for that quintet; since leaving Cleveland, all five of those players have been below replacement level (Moss might be slightly above depending on whose definition of WAR you use), and the departed ballplayers had a combined salary of about $40 million this year. The Indians held onto useful trade targets like Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles (although the latter was partially for altruistic reasons – Aviles’ daughter is battling cancer, and the Indians didn’t want Aviles to have to move while she was undergoing treatment); they decided instead to simply watch the season play out and let the chips fall where they may.
Sure enough, the addition by subtraction worked, and the Indians soon got red-hot. Since that dismal day of July 28, the Indians have been the third best team in the AL, outplaying everyone except the streaking Rangers and the post-trade Blue Jays. By mid-September, the Indians had pulled to .500, and it actually looked like they might have a chance to catch the falling second wildcard spot. Ultimately, the Indians stalled out right around that time, and while the 11-10 stretch they embarked on since hitting the .500 mark wasn’t bad, it wasn’t going to help them leapfrog any playoff teams. Regardless, for a team that was dead and buried at the trade deadline, the Indians did an awfully good job scaring the daylights out of everyone and making it look like they actually had a chance.
The Indians are an exciting young team. Starting pitchers Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer are all good and all under 30. Yan Gomes, who is signed through 2019, would be a valuable catcher if he didn’t hit at all – that’s why it’s even more impressive that he won the Silver Slugger Award in 2014. Almonte has been a revelation in center; he was largely cast aside by the Padres in their quixotic quest for the 2015 playoffs, but he’s come into his own after finally being given a chance to play every day by the Indians. The middle of the diamond is locked up for the forseeable future with Jason Kipnis and Rookie of the Year candidate Francisco Lindor, and outfielder Michael Brantley would be a superstar if he were on almost any other team. And of course, there’s manager – Terry Francona is one of the very best in the game, and if he can lead the Indians to break the Curse of Louis Sockalexis after previously destroying the Curse of the Bambino, he can start writing his Hall of Fame induction speech immediately. In short, this is the most promising Indians team since the 2005-07 squads fell just short of success, except that this time, Eric Wedge isn’t around to screw things up…
The Indians last made the playoffs in 2013. Their last World Series victory was in 1948.
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