Some call it comeuppance and some call it getting a pound of flesh. In baseball, more so than most other things in the world, things have a way of evening themselves out; of course, the timing isn’t always the way we’d like to think it should be. Now think about the Cleveland Indians since Terry Francona has assumed the helm, and remember that they needed every one of those 92 wins in 2013. Technically, two more wins would have given them a Central Division title, though we know Detroit collected their $200 and stopped on “Go” last September. In that same breath, two fewer victories, whether you subtract a game or two from that four-game sweep over Oakland last May or any of those games with Chicago in September they had no business winning, would have put the Tribe in a mad dash for tee times as the Major League Baseball post-season commenced last October.
Glancing at the calendar, I see it’s June and we can hardly call this season new at this point, but what goes around, comes around for the Cleveland Indians. After enjoying a 17-2 season series against the White Sox, a comedy of righteous moments that literally took words out of White Sox play-by-play personality Ken “Hawk” Harrelson’s mouth on several occasions. Now, taking 17 of 19 from anyone other than Houston involves a good share of favorable bounces, like the divine intervention that gave them the double-header sweep at “New Comiskey” on June 28th last year. In Game 1, we were all disappointed to see Trevor Bauer fail to get three outs in the first inning of a start, putting the Tribe in a 5-0 hole before batting in the top of the second inning; response runs were there for the taking, however, and after evening things up in the next frame, the Tribe would cruise to 19-8 victory. The night-cap was all White Sox and this twinbill was destined for a split until the away team put up 4 runs on 4 hits in the top of the ninth off Chicago closer Addison Reed for a 9-8 win. Downing the south-siders was just how it went in 2013; Jason Giambi had two walk-off bombs against Chicago in a year that he did little else on the stat sheet.
Thus far, it’s been a different story when it comes to Robin Ventura’s squad and the Braves of the Cuyahoga. While I personally don’t care for those that dismiss teams that are strong in the 1-run games as teams that should regress back to the mean, you have to admit four walk-off wins in nine home games opens the door for the credit to go to Lady Luck, but you can counter that by pointing out the back end bullpen is a big part of the game. The Indians know it all too well, having dropped two in walk-off fashion on the South Side already this season, and a third at home, where John Axford yielded three runs in the ninth, instead of locking down a 3-1 victory. Through 10 games, the upstart White Sox have taken 7 of 10 from the Indians, and sit in second place in the division, one half game above the Tribe, who trail division-leading Detroit by just 3 games. Better the standings look like this in early June, rather than early October.
Speaking of October, the Oakland Athletics have found themselves on the dance-floor in each of the last two seasons, and appear to be on their way back this season. I know it’s simple, but success comes in winning more games than you lose, and the A’s did that, turning out Win-Loss records of .500 or better against all but three of their opponents a year ago; they dropped 11 of 19 against Seattle, despite outscoring them by 5 runs on the season, and went 2-5 against the Orioles and the Indians. They were swept in Cleveland last May, on the strength of some solid starting pitching (the Cleveland starter got the win in each game), but also with the benefit of the doubt; an Adam Rosales ninth inning double that obviously cleared the threshold for home run somehow could not be upgraded with the aid of replay and Rosales was eventually stranded on third base when Chris Perez saved a 4-3 win for the Tribe. Oakland did bounce back in August, taking 2 of 3 from the slumping Indians at the Coliseum on the East Bay, but could only salvage 2 wins in 7 tries.
You might say Bob Melvin’s squad went out and got their pound of flesh, when it came avenging their dismal showing against the Tribe in 2013, being in the clubhouse with a 4-2 season-series win over the Tribe. It looked like it might be more of the same after the Indians took 2 of 3 in the season-opening series, with former Indians southpaw Scott Kazmir salvaging the only victory the A’s could manage to get on the west coast, but they responded to last season’s 4-game sweep at Progressive Field by taking all three games at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. In the six games, Oakland outscored the Indians 40 to 15. Through 60 games in 2014, the A’s have outscored their opponents by 120 runs and sit 14 games over .500. The Indians, on the other hand, are in the red on run differential to-date, despite breaking even in the win column.
On the bright side, there is a flip side to this coin. Some might say this exposed the Indians for what they really were a season ago, a team that could beat up on the bums and didn’t belong in the same ballpark with the real contenders, but they stunk against the other playoff qualifiers in 2013. In seven games with the eventual World Champs, Francona’s former team took six. They were 2-4 against Tampa Bay and 4-15 against Detroit, who ended up just one game better than the Indians in the Central Division standings, a fact that needs to be qualified (again), since Jim Leyland shut the team down for a meaningless series in Miami to end the regular season. Being taken behind the woodshed by the contenders, thus exposing the Tribe as “pretenders”, provided some balance in the grand scheme, essentially canceling out their mastery of the American League bottom-feeders.
We probably didn’t think about it too much, as it was happening with the Red Sox, given the Red Sox were so emotionally charged when they came to Cleveland in April, on literally the day of the Boston Marathon tragedy. The one they call Tito would only get one win in seven tries against the organization he once to led to their first title in 86 years, when his lineup torched Ryan Dempster, Clayton Mortensen, and Alex Wilson for 12 runs in a 12-3 win at Fenway. As far as bouncing back is concerned, the sample size is a little small and we really have no idea what to make of the 2014 Red Sox, but they just completed a 3-game series sweep of Big Papi and company, which has to be a huge weight off the shoulders of Francona, whether he admits it or not. Let’s also consider how many good things happened, as it pertained to confidence going forward in the series that ended with Asdrubal Cabrera’s walk-off home run to secure the sweep on Wednesday night (Thursday morning, to be technical).
Then, you have Detroit, the team that knocks the Indians off their pedestal anytime they’ve gotten a little momentum in recent years. I’m sure most of us have not forgotten how quickly the 2011 came out of the gates, starting 30-15, an amazing run that included 3-game sweep of the Tigers, two of those wins coming in the form of walk-offs. Well, the next time the two teams met in June, the Tigers took two of three, knocking the Indians down to 36-31 and into second place in the division. In August of that year, the Tribe took a series at home, putting them within 3 games of Detroit’s divsion lead, but the Tigers won the last 10 matchups that year, and thoughts of the post-season were laughable by season’s end.
A year later, in 2012, it was a lot more of the same. Hell, the stat sheet shows the Tribe took the season series 10-8, but it comes down to the team from the Motor City killing their spirits. They were still outscored by 15 runs over the course of 18 games. They won 7 of the first 9, including a 5-3 win on July 26th that had some fools believing there was still life in this club. Of course, you can’t solely blame the Tigers for the 11 game losing streak that followed that inspiring win, though they were responsible for losses 7, 8, and 9. They’d pull out a couple more, and even scored one last walk-off win against Jose Valverde (aka Papa Grande) in September, you know, for old time’s sake. But much like [SPOILER ALERT] Tessio in Part I, the Indians and Manny Acta were already dead.
Well, that wasn’t a depressing walk down memory lane or anything! Let’s bring it back to the present-day, and though we have learned to taper our emotions after early-season success, the clubhouse had to have been buzzing at the comeuppance that came with sweeping the Tigers at home last month, and the balk-off could really be seen as the exclamation point. Again, we look at our calendar and we know that it’s early, that this 4-to-1 advantage the Tribe currently holds over the Tigers could easily be 5-14 by season’s end, a la last year, but things feel different this year for some reason. Perhaps we’ve already seen the woes this team inevitably experiences every year since Dick Jacobs family name was taken off the ballpark’s marquee.
They didn’t get to 30-30 by starting 30-15, but from 24-30 (their low-water mark). They’ve shown they can beat Detroit and they can beat Boston, and it’s too early to think about whether or not they can beat San Francisco; they’re 0-3 this season and 0-6 in their last six tries, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Of course, if they don’t cross that bridge, they are only 2-4 against the team that shares the bay, so there are multiple pounds of flesh to be had in Northern California, come October, I suppose.
That’s a concern for another time, of course, but the Indians were left for dead just a few weeks back and now, to quote everyone second favorite Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony album, they are creepin’ on a come up. So, to all you busters out there, beware!