Written by: Brendan Ripley-Barasch (@BBarasch_5)
Follow us on Twitter! @OS_Report
Baseball fans have been glued to the television screen so far this October. The first few rounds of this year's MLB Playoffs has already offered many great moments. Who could have predicted Connor Gillaspie would be the hero for the San Francisco Giants in their Wild Card game? How shocking was it to see the Texas Rangers get dismantled by the Blue Jays in their series? And most recently, fans witnessed the Chicago Cubs put together one of the biggest comebacks in Postseason history in game four of the NLDS, resulting in the Giants’ elimination. But maybe the biggest surprise in these young playoffs came when the Cleveland Indians managed to sweep the incredibly talented Boston Red Sox in the ALDS.
Earlier in 2016, the city of Cleveland saw another one of their major sports teams end a championship drought when the Cavaliers, led by superstar LeBron James, staged a historic comeback against the Golden State Warriors to claim the hardware. Four months later, the people of Cleveland are hoping their Indians can follow in the Cavs footsteps and put an end to their 68-year-old championship dry spell.
Indians manager, Terry Francona, has some experience when it comes to ending title droughts. In 2004, then managing the Boston Red Sox, Francona led them to their first title since 1918, breaking the "Curse of the Bambino." Fast forward to present day, the Indians have put themselves in a position to accomplish a similar feat. Not only is Francona worthy of praise for how he has handled the club, the team's executives also deserve some credit for assembling a championship caliber squad.
Cleveland's shortstop, Francisco Lindor, has quickly asserted himself as one of the top young players in the entire league with his defensive prowess and consistent hitting. Jason Kipnis, a fan favorite, has been an above average second baseman for years and something that can't be measured by statistics, is the impact that his leadership has had on the team. A couple other talented young bucks that have been major contributors this year are third baseman Jose Ramirez and center fielder Tyler Naquin. These two player's pure love of the game and passion have lit a fire under a team who has been missing one for quite some time. Not only have these homegrown players been getting it done, but a few trade acquisitions and free-agent signings have helped as well. A couple of these new faces include 1B/DH Mike Napoli, OF's Coco Crisp and Brandon Guyer, and reigning AL Reliever of the Year, Andrew Miller.
One can't discuss the Indians’ 2016 success without bringing up the adversity they have faced throughout the season and are still dealing with in the playoffs. It seemed as if injuries caught Cleveland at seemingly the worst times this year. All the way back in July, fans saw the club’s starting catcher, Yan Gomes, suffer a shoulder injury in a game against the Minnesota Twins. After the injury, Gomes never quite made it back to 100 percent and isn't even placed on their roster heading into the ALCS. Cleveland's front office tried to fill the hole that Gomes left by making a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers to bring in All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy. When news broke about the trade, fans were overjoyed, but not too much later it was reported that Lucroy had chosen to exercise his no-trade clause and blocked any deal placing him in the city of Cleveland.
Citizens of Northeast Ohio are known to be some of the most loyal and passionate fans in all of professional sports and when they learned about Lucroy vetoing the trade, they were enraged. After all of this, the role of starting catcher was eventually given to an inexperienced player by the name of Roberto Perez, who has shined so far in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, Gomes wasn't the only player the Indians would lose to the injury bug. Starting pitchers Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco saw their seasons take a turn for the worse when they too fell victim. Salazar started missing extended periods of time between July and September with a variety of different injuries and for the last month of the regular season, wasn't able to take the field at all. But luckily for him, he has been able to recover well and the team is hopeful he can return for their championship series against the Toronto Blue Jays. However, Carrasco, unlike Salazar, doesn't have a chance to play again this year. In a game against the Detroit Tigers in early September, Carrasco was struck by a line drive that fractured the fifth metacarpal in his right hand. Sadly, this would end the young pitcher's season.
With all of the injuries that players of the Cleveland Indians have dealt with this year, maybe the biggest and least talked about one is Michael Brantley's. The 2014 All-Star outfielder was unavailable at the beginning of the season due to a shoulder injury. However, he was able to find his way back to the field and eventually play in 11 games before he was struck with bad luck once again when it was determined that he would require an operation on that same shoulder. In August, Brantley underwent biceps tenodesis surgery which closed the book on a possible 2016 return. After thinking things could not get much worse for the player, it was recently reported that Brantley's surgically repaired shoulder might sideline him to begin the 2017 season as well.
So how have the Cleveland Indians been able to succeed and advance to the ALCS while being presented with so many hurdles along the way? Once again, manager Terry Francona, general manager Mike Chernoff, the entire front-office staff, and the hard working Indians players deserve all of the credit. Thanks to the moves that Chernoff and his staff have made, Francona was able to develop a winning recipe.
The short-handed pitching staff described previously, had some folks doubting Cleveland as they got ready for the postseason, but it didn't seem to bother them. Remaining starting pitchers, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Josh Tomlin, stepped up to the challenge when they realized the team would most likely have to use a three-man rotation. With the potential of these men having to pitch games on short rest, Francona was quick to go to his trustworthy bullpen in the series against Boston. It seemed like as soon as one of the pitchers began to show signs of fatigue, Francona would opt for one of his relievers. The result of this game plan was a three game sweep of the AL East champions.
As they gear up for their next series against a very hot Toronto club, be prepared to see a similar game plan. Trust in the bullpen, take advantage of scoring opportunities, and play great defense. While it sounds easy, it will be no simple task against a stout opponent like the Blue Jays who sport a lineup filled with game changing players like Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista to go along with a talented pitching staff headlined by Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. In the previous round, Toronto made quick work of a 95-win Rangers team (which ironically included Jonathan Lucroy), beating them soundly in each contest of a series that would end as a three game sweep.
It would be easy to refer to the Cleveland Indians as the underdog heading into this match-up, citing their depleted rotation as a cause for concern in a seven game series. But it would be just as easy to say that this team could once again overcome adversity and eventually reach the World Series for the first time since 1997. Will the Indians be able to join the Cavs and deliver a title to a city that has been patiently waiting for so many years? Make sure to tune in to the ALCS and see if 2016 truly is the Indians’ year.