Dealing With This Year’s Disappointment

This morning, Cleveland Indians fans are dealing with that familiar gut-punch feeling of deep disappointment.  Last night the Tribe got bounced from the playoffs by the New York Yankees, and the magical 2017 season, which saw the Indians set an American League record of 22 straight wins and win more than 100 games for only the third time in the team’s history, is abruptly over.

cleveland-indians-world-series-game-7-lossThe loss means that, when next year rolls around and the Tribe tries again, it will be a full 70 years — 70 years! — since Cleveland last won a World Series.  It’s now the longest such streak in Major League Baseball.

The fact that the Tribe lost to the Yankees, the perennial winners who have taken home more than a dozen World Series titles since the Cleveland last hoisted a World Series championship banner, makes the loss doubly painful.  The fact that the Indians lost after leading the series 2-0, notching an improbable comeback win in game two, and putting the Yankees on the brink of elimination, before collapsing in an uncharacteristic haze of errors and offensive futility — well, that just shoves the pain into the brutal, off-the-charts category that long-time Cleveland fans know all too well.

Watching the game wind down to its ugly conclusion last night, I saw the pictures of overtly prayerful Tribe fans hoping against hope that this year the result might be different — and I knew exactly how they felt.  But when it comes to the Cleveland Indians, the fates simply are not kind, and no amount of heartfelt beseeching of the baseball gods is going to change that.

So last night after the game ended we tossed and turned and slept poorly, fretting about this latest disappointment.  It’s kind of embarrassing to react so strongly to a sporting event, when our rational sides know that it is after all just a game that pales in comparison to the really important things in life — but that’s what sports fans do. We give our hearts to a team, willing to endure the angst of losses and thinking that when our team does win we’ll recoup that investment a hundredfold.  We just can’t help feeling deeply affected by these kinds of painful losses — and with the star-crossed Indians, the celebration of ultimate triumph still hasn’t come and seems as unlikely as ever.

Time will give us some perspective, and Tribe fans will always have that wonderful winning streak to remember, just like Rick and Ilsa will always have Paris.  But for now we’ve just watched another potential championship climb into a plane with the New York Yankees and fly away.  Boy, it really stings!

 

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100 Wins

Yesterday afternoon the Cleveland Indians won their 100th game of the year, beating the Minnesota Twins 5-2.  The Tribe got another terrific starting pitching performance, this time from Carlos Carrasco, who pitched 8 shutout innings, struck out 14 batters, and now stands at 18-6 on the year.

usatsi_10313296_1506620201223_11256969_ver1-0100 wins is a nice round number.  It’s also an historic achievement of sorts.  This is only the third time in their 100-plus year history that the Indians have won 100 games in a season, and it took an historic winning streak to do it.  And in baseball generally, 100-win seasons don’t necessarily happen every year.  Eight teams in the big leagues have never won 100 games, and  these days the economics of  the game tend to discourage team owners and general managers from assembling the combination of talent that can win 100 games, because it’s going to be expensive and there’s a good chance that lots of the players will be moving on, leaving you to rebuild from scratch.  Better to aim for those teams that can consistently win 90 games and that you can hold together over a few years.

In our modern world, we tend to measure every athletic team by whether they won it all, and regular seasons are eclipsed by the playoffs, where short series and bad breaks can bring down dominant teams.  Many 100-win teams haven’t won the World Series, and this year — because both the Dodgers and the Indians have reached that number — there will be at least one more 100-win team that doesn’t win it all.  That’s just the way the ball bounces in baseball.

But, for the true fan, what happens in the post-season shouldn’t detract from what happens during the regular season.  Baseball is a marathon, and winning 100 games takes focus, careful management, and meaningful contributions from everybody on the roster.  It’s a true team accomplishment, because during those 100 wins different players are going to have to step up and make the big hit, or the tremendous fielding play, or the crucial pitch to allow another W to go into the record books.

2017 has been a remarkable year for the Cleveland Indians, and a marvelous year for those of us who are long-time fans of the Tribe.  Here’s hoping it continues!

Sweet 16

The last few weeks have been glorious times for the Cleveland Indians and their fans.  With last night’s victory over Baltimore, the Tribe has now won 16 games in a row.

img_5177With every triumph, the streak seems to set a new record.  It’s the longest winning streak in the history of the Indians ball club, and the longest streak in the major league since 2002.  It’s only the third time since 1961 that a major league baseball team has won at least 16 games in a row.  It’s nice to know, too, that Russell, UJ and I got to see part of the history.  We witnessed two of the wins on the streak, when the Tribe shut out the Royals back to back for wins 3 and 4 two weeks ago.

The Tribe still has a ways to go, however, if it really wants to put its name in the record books:  the all-time longest winning streak for a big league baseball team is 21 games, achieved by the 1935 Chicago Cubs.  (The longest losing streak, in case you’re interested, is 23 games by the 1961 Philadelphia Phillies.)

The games we saw against Kansas City were a microcosm of the streak, because the Tribe has been doing it with the basics:  excellent starting pitching, solid bullpen work, good defense, and timely hitting, often with power.  The streak has been particularly impressive because the team has won many of the games on the road while overcoming lots of injuries to key players, like Andrew Miller and Jason Kipnis.  And the players themselves don’t seem to be fazed by the team’s success and are just going out and playing one game at a time.

Every streak ends, of course, but this one has been lots of fun to relish.

There Are No Jinxes

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.

img_2445The 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.

Wheeling And Dealing

As Russell, Kish, UJ, and I enjoyed watching the Indians take two games from the Oakland Athletics on Saturday and Sunday — and look pretty darned good in the process — the Tribe’s front office was busy, too.  With the major league trade deadline nearing, management was hoping to make some deals to fill a few holes on the roster.

IMG_2477The Indians pulled off a key trade with the Yankees, sending some of their stable of minor league prospects to New York in exchange for prized reliever Andrew Miller.  Miller, a lefty, is a strikeout specialist who will give Tribe manager Terry Francona better options in the bullpen.  (And, of particular importance in the modern world of baseball economics, Miller has a favorable contract, too.)  The Tribe also tried to acquire catcher Jonathan Lucroy from Milwaukee, in exchange for still more prospects, but Lucroy vetoed the deal, invoking no-trade rights he’s got in his contract.

As we drove back from yesterday’s 8-0 shellacking of the As, UJ and I listened to Cleveland sports talk radio.  Some callers bemoaned the Indians’ decision to deal some of their top prospects, but others recognized reality:  in professional baseball, if the stars align and you find yourself in a position to make a legitimate run for a pennant, you’ve got to make the moves that maximize your chances for success, now.  You can’t make long-term plans because injuries and contracts and free agency just make that impossible.  Instead, it’s all about striking while the iron is hot and hoping that you put the pieces together that allow you to bring home a championship.  (And, while nobody wants to give away prospects, experienced fans know that guys who look like lock-cinch phenoms at the A and AA levels often don’t pan out, anyway.)

This year the Indians have fine starting pitching, their defense is greatly improved, and their offense is far more productive than most people expected.  And while they’ve got some holes, at catcher and third base, they’ve got a legitimate shot at the playoffs — and one you make the playoffs, who knows?  I’m glad to see that the Tribe’s front office is wheeling and dealing to try to maximize the Indian’s chances to make a successful run this year.  The final trade deadline comes today, at 4 p.m.  Don’t be surprised if the Indians make another swap before then.

Sigh

A fine season for the Tribe has come to a disappointing ending with a shutout loss in the winner-take-all wildcard game.  I worked out some angst by screaming at the TV at some of the strike calls by the home plate umpire and some of the missed opportunities.  At least I succeeded in scaring the dogs.

I’m sorry this season is over, but I’ll try not to forget what a pleasant surprise this team was.  It’s hard to get past this loss right now, though.