There are no jinxes.
Repeat after me: There are no jinxes!
When the Cleveland Cavaliers came roaring back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA championship this year, and finally brought a championship to Cleveland sports fans after a 52-year drought, they buried the Cleveland sports jinxes once and for all. Even UJ has declared it. So today I’ll write what I really think about the Cleveland Indians’ chances in the MLB playoffs, without tying myself in knots about whether by writing, speaking, or even thinking about the Tribe I’m somehow upsetting the lurking karma. It’s wonderfully liberating, after years of being shackled by deep-seated jinxing fears.
The Tribe won the AL Central this year thanks to very good starting pitching, a superb bullpen, and a surprisingly robust offense. For a while, the Indians easily had the best starting pitching in baseball, but then injuries took their toll and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer had their struggles. Now the team advances to the playoffs without Carlos Carrasco, with their most consistent starter, Corey Kluber, dealing with a nagging quadriceps strain, and with Danny Salazar available only in the bullpen. The Tribe will need to start Bauer in game one against the Boston Red Sox and hope that Kluber recuperates in time to start game two. Tomlin, who was removed from the starting rotation after getting repeatedly battered but who has pitched better since being reinstated as a starter after the injury to Carrasco, will start game three. If the Tribe hopes to prevail, it will need all three of those starters to pitch well.
Some experts think that the Indians’ first-round opponents, the Boston Red Sox, are the team most likely to win the World Series this year. They believe the Sox are the most balanced team in the playoffs, with good pitching and a very potent offense. And, the Sox have the sentimental favorite storyline going for them, with the chance to win another World Series ring for retiring slugger David Ortiz, who had a fantastic year in 2016. The Sox also won the season series against the Indians this year. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that none of the pundits and baseball GMs seem to be picking the Tribe to win.
I think the key question in this series is whether the Tribe’s hitters bring their bats. This year, the team at times has had to scratch and claw for runs, but they’ve also been good at getting timely hits. In 2016 we’ve seen the emergence of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Tyler Naquin, and Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana have supplied the power. Lindor and Napoli were slumping at the end of the season. Tribe fans hope that they are revived by a few days off before the series starts on Thursday.
The Red Sox offense is going to score some runs; I’m not expecting a bunch of 1-0 games. The issue is whether the Indians can also put some runs on the scoreboard. If they can, I like their chances for one reason: Terry Francona. I think he’s one of the very best managers in the game, and he has used his bullpen spectacularly this year — including the game that Russell, UJ and I saw live, where Carrasco was injured on his second pitch and Francona threw a different pitcher out there every inning to improbably shut out the Tigers and win, 1-0, in 10 innings. It was a magical, never to be forgotten performance.
Any manager and bullpen that can do that against a good offensive club like Detroit is something special. If the Cleveland batters bring their lumber, and if the Tribe’s starters can keep the Sox from getting runaway leads, Francona and the bullpen could turn 2016 into something special for the Tribe and their long-suffering fans.