I kicked off MLB’s Award season on Monday, when I ran through my picks for the A.L. MVP, ROY, Cy Young, and Manager of the Year. Some of the picks were contentious, and I got an earful from certain segments of the nation, but I stand by my final picks. My apologies to the city of Cleveland, I should have included Francisco Lindor in the ROY conversation, but I didn’t want to be held responsible for throwing an RJ on him if his career goes amiss in 2016. The N.L. Awards are far more clear-cut, or at least I believe so. Of course I’m often told I’m an idiot 10 times a day, so there may not be any reason to suggest I know what I’m talking about.
The ultimate hammer has dropped. Just when pundits and smart asses alike might have been questioning Max Scherzer and douche canoe super agent Scott Boras for turning down a guaranteed $144MM extension last spring from the Detroit Tigers… BOOM! Seven years, $210MM. The antichrist does it again.
Three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Scott Boras clients going to free agency. The Boras gamble paid off this time, and frankly, it does more often than not (how do you think Ryan Madson feels though?). At face value it looks like a no-brainer, right? However, imagine being Scherzer during the 2014 season. I would have gone to bed every fourth night praying to the almighty not to turn my arm into papier-mâché the next day. Comparing sports or even transcending it to real life is by and large a superfluous exercise but ask yourself: would you reject a $144MM lottery ticket for the chance at $210MM in 10 months? If so then you’re probably in the minority. The best speculation at the time was a $175MM contract. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush? It’s all a matter of risk tolerance. And Boras plays that game with his clients’ lives better (or worse) than anyone in sports. I severely dislike that man for systematically ruining baseball. But I digress.
Do not ignore two subtle aspects to this signing: (1) turning down a substantial extension was a very risky play, and (2) the creativity of this deal could create different opportunities for payroll flexibility particularly for small and mid-market clubs. Organizations might look to replicate Scherzer’s signing bonus and/or deferred money much like Dennis Martinez and Bobby Bonilla in the past. Fifteen million dollars for fourteen years and a fifty million dollar signing bonus dispersed over an undisclosed period of time? Now that’s creative.
One last comment on Scherzer’s deal. Take his comment about the Nationals “commitment to winning” with a grain of salt. If I were a sporting fella I’d wager that ol’ Maxwell wanted to get out from Justin Verlander’s shadow in Detroit. And don’t think that Scott Boras didn’t have a hand in it. When Boras brokered Alex Rodriguez’s then record-setting deal of 10 years and $252 million (2001), he later admitted that dollar amount was specifically targeted because it was double the richest contract ever in sports, Kevin Garnett’s $126MM (1999).
So, what’s the difference between a 26-year old lefty and a 30-year old righty? Apparently, about $10 million dollars and deflated National League numbers.
Will one of these guys be the next Johan Santana? Scherzer will benefit from not facing a DH anymore but I do not like this deal. Perhaps I am influenced by my small market-ness in Cleveland but long-term contracts for starting pitchers typically leads to an imbalanced payroll and leveraging too much on the short term. Look at the Detroit Tigers. They tried to spend their way to a World Series only to dump Prince Fielder’s contract. And Mike Ilitch has been spending money like he’s a coupon kid at a BOGO sale.
I will call my shot right now: we are starting to witness the demise of the Detroit Tigers. Trading Porcello, Scherzer bolts, David Price is a free agent in 2016, banking on Victor Martinez not to decline with age, MiLB pipeline underwhelming, this formula adds up to a catastrophic disaster of epic proportions. And I can’t wait!
What’s the next domino?
As smart business people do, they let the higher commodity set the market. We would have expected James Shields to be no different now that’s Scherzer’s deal is in place. Unfortunately for Shields he’s on the wrong side of thirty; 33 to be exact. To date he has only made $39MM in his career, 35% of which came in 2014. If he is lucky he will get two paydays before he hangs up his cleats. Otherwise it’s one and done. When 1b or type-2 players sign after a 1a we usually see one of two things: regression towards the mean or over-indulgence caused by missing out on the former. Due to Shields’ age I would bet on the former. If you are a fan of a team in the American League Central then Scherzer and Shields leaving the division is a good thing.
Movers and Shakers
Has there been a more active hot stove in recent years because I cannot think of one. Legitimate All Stars on the move. I mean, the Kansas City Royals go from darling MLB story and World Series losers to now… a destination place for free agents? Huh? We all knew it was only a matter of time before Boston started spending like gangbusters to atone for their awful brand of baseball post-Theo Epstein but the Royals, White Sox, Cubs, Padres, the ASTROS and the MARLINS? What in Barry Bonds’ flaxseed oil is going on? Two words: television money (but that’s a story for another day).
And, of course, bringing up the rear are my Cleveland Indians. A ballclub which fancies themselves as opportunistic players in the free agent market. Right or wrong, they attempt to leverage particular situations to their advantage (see NYM/Michael Bourn overtures). Problem is they have a recent history of being wrong. Yoenis Cespedes? No. Yasiel Puig? Uh-uh. Nick Swisher? ALL-IN, BABY! Or more appropriately, this:
Leave a comment below or follow Marcus on Twitter at @Seel_Deal.
Matthew Kline’s analysis of the David Price trade was spot on and it got me thinking about my perspective on the issue. The deal was an utter failure for the Tampa Bay Rays, their fans and the general state of baseball in Florida (do they even deserve two teams down there?).
I’ll admit I was convinced the Rays were keeping Price to make a run at this year’s pennant in an up-for-grabs AL East. Apparently the surging Baltimore Orioles convinced them it would be better to deal away the best thing (maybe the only thing) they had going for them.
Drew Smyly and Nick Franklin are serviceable Major League talents and will positively impact the team in the years to come but c’mon. The Rays should have needed a barge to haul all the prospects they got in return for the most sought-after player at the deadline. Instead, they needed only a makeshift raft. I’m left wondering how the team with seemingly all the power in these negotiations ended up getting the shortest of all possible straws.
The Seattle Mariners got an absolute bargain here! All they had to do was go along for the ride and hang on tight. They picked up a reliable everyday centerfielder in Austin Jackson just by sending Franklin to Tampa. It seems like the Rays got cheated.
If that’s what you believe then direct your anger toward the Rays’ front office. Sending away your best player while in the middle of a division race means you cannot play that “small market” public relations card that has allowed you to hide the fact you aren’t truly committed to winning championships. Having little spending money is one thing, indifference is quite another. Notice how Oakland all of a sudden doesn’t care much about payroll.
The only logical explanation I can offer is this: Dave Dombrowski, the Detroit Tigers General Manager/ President/ CEO. He is the very best in the business at what he does. At least it appears that way with all the tremendous transactions he has made in his tenure. (I also believe all but a handful of GMs aren’t given enough authority to effectively alter their teams’ rosters, thus making it hard to compete with Dombrowski who clearly does.)
The acquisition of David Price is one of the many blockbuster moves Dombrowski has pulled off for the benefit of the Tigers and their fans. The complete list is long. Most of these moves go under the radar or are forgotten about in due time, but the highlights are evident when watching the team. Take a look:
- Seems like ancient history by now but Polanco was invaluable during the resurrection of baseball in Detroit along with Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez.
- Willis was fun to watch for maybe three starts but who cares about him. This deal landed the game’s best hitter in Detroit. Maybin and Miller have had marginal success in the Bigs but again, who cares.
- Boy oh boy did I have a hard time talking to Tigers fans about this trade. Granderson was loved in Detroit and it seemed everyone refused to acknowledge this as a good trade simply because he was shipped out. He never would’ve become the player he is today had he not gone to the Yankees back then. Edwin Jackson continues his grand tour around baseball playing for the Cubs these days (his ninth team in his twelve seasons). Austin Jackson stepped seamlessly into the void left by Granderson and remained the starting centerfielder until recently being dealt in the Price trade. Coke struggles a lot but who in the Tigers ‘pen doesn’t nowadays. Scherzer took some time to pan out but I’d say winning last year’s Cy Young more than makes up for his late bloom. And I will continue to ask Detroiters if they still miss the Grandy man.
- Not Soto the catcher, some lefty who I haven’t heard anything from since. Peralta literally made history immediately dropping bombs over the Green Monster in his first two at-bats with the Tigers (the only player ever to do so). He was suspended 50 games last year and was forced to move to left field when he got back because Jose Iglesias was manning shortstop by then. Peralta still hit better than everyone not named Victor Martinez during the postseason. It would have been nice to have him at short this season too with Iglesias on the shelf.
- Turner is still trying to lockdown a permanent spot in the Miami rotation while Sanchez has soared. The American League ERA leader from last year has electric stuff even though he goes mostly unnoticed considering the arms that surround him. Infante was a Tiger earlier in his career. It was nice to see him back at second base since everyone and their mother in the Tigers’ system was trotted out at the position after he left the first time. He’s moved on again, to Kansas City this time but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him come back once more to finish his career in Detroit.
July 2013: Avisail Garcia, Brayan Villareal for Jose Iglesias.
- This was part of the trade that sent Jake Peavy to Boston. Garcia has been hurt ever since getting to Chicago which really is too bad because he and Jose Abreu would have made for an incredible 3-4 punch. Iglesias wowed everyone who watched him in the field down the stretch last year. He too has been hurt for the entirety of this season. If he can’t come back healthy and stay that way, I’ll have to say I don’t like this deal because I hated seeing Garcia go, especially to a division rival.
- As a Tigers fan, the only thing better than signing Fielder was trading him away. Kinsler is the straw that stirs the Tigers’ drink. I was ecstatic when I heard this news and have not at all been disappointed by the results thus far. Rangers fans would have to disagree I’m sure since Fielder didn’t play more than a couple months this season before being diagnosed with a season-ending neck injury.
- This one’s still up in the air a bit. Ray has become the Tigers’ top pitching prospect. Krol has looked too much like Coke when he’s been healthy. Lombardozzi was soon dealt to Baltimore for Alex Gonzalez (ugh). Put it this way though, without having dealt Fister the Tigers wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get Price.
So now I’m thinking maybe it wasn’t the fault of Tampa Bay’s front office. Maybe Dave Dombrowski is just that damn good at what he does.
Mitchell Gatzke did a great job of breaking down MLB’s deadline day deals in his column yesterday, but there is one deal in particular that he mentioned that I’d like to review a little further, specifically the David Price to the Detroit Tigers deal. Yes, there were other components to the trade, but that was the most significant part of the deal. The other major part of the deal was the absolute dearth of talent that made its way back to the Rays.
Last Friday, I once again took on PEDs cheats. My target was current Baltimore Oriole Nelson Cruz, who is posting even more eye-popping numbers this year than he did last year. You know, when he failed a PEDs test and was suspended for 50 games. I’ve previously profiled Bartolo Colon in the same manner, and any time the opportunity presents itself, I’ll make sure to have something to say.
Well, the secret is out, but knowing that the Tom Hamilton walk-off call, be it a home run call or anything a little Hollywood, is almost an unparalleled experience, especially if you’re a Tribe fan. Being off the reservation, or should I just say “out-of-market”, keeping up with the Tribe involves a financial decision each spring.
For years, I’ve shelled out the extra cash for DirecTV to add the MLB Extra Innings package to my already outrageous monthly invoice, but I made the leap to the more feature-rich MLB.tv Premium a few years back. With other sports offering broadband and mobile packages, in conjunction with the cable/satellite add-on, Major League Baseball was once again behind the times, or so I thought. Extra Innings only served its purpose when I was home, whereas the online service offered some flexibility on the go. One of those services made available was the radio call of all the games, with your choice of the home or away announcer and the Spanish crew, when applicable.
It doesn’t matter if I’m at the office, stuck in commuter traffic, or 1500 miles from home; if the Tribe is playing, I can listen to Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus on the audio call. The exception to that, of course, is when I’m 35,000 feet above the ground, when I’m without broadband or mobile data service, as I was yesterday, en route to Chicago. To take soften the blow of Chi-town’s swamp-like humidity, I put the headphones on, and let the Voice of the Cleveland Indians take me home, in more ways than one, with an all-important, if not extremely unlikely, series sweep of the Detroit Tigers hanging in the balance.
To reset my perspective, the At Bat app, the one that drives MLB.tv and the bonus audio feeds, sends me an alert that the game is tied at 7 after Detroit added two in the fifth. I paused; seven runs thru 5 for the Braves of the Cuyahoga, but I thought Scherzer was on the bump for the Tigers! That was encouraging for this enigma of an offense that Terry Francona has marched out there, this far in 2014, but it doesn’t matter if you score 20, if you lose 21-20. By the time I was back on the grid, with “Hammy” and “Rosey” in my ear, it sounded as though a bad day from Scherzer wasn’t going to sink the Tigers, who now led 9-7, but David Murphy had no concerns about their backs being against the wall with one on and one out in the ninth.
“A swing and a long drive, deep right center…this ball is…”
GONE! I’ve got no video to go on, hence nothing analytical to add, just the raw emotion of a Missouri native-turned-Cleveland fan at heart in Tom Hamilton. The Detroit closer’s name was Joe, but you could call him Blown Save Nathan after that shot. Out in the visitor’s bullpen, I can only imagine Al Albuquerque thinking, ‘I know this feeling,’ having served up a game-winning bomb to Michael Brantley in the first game of this series.
The celebration didn’t last long, as theme for 2014 continued with the Indians pitching staff surrendering a response run; this potential back-breaking smash came off the bat of Alex Avila after a solid two and two-thirds of solid relief work from usual starter Josh Tomlin. Alex Avila! Must it always be the nobodies, like JD Martinez, Don Kelly, and Avila that punish Indians pitching? Well, in this case, maybe it did, considering Miguel Cabrera got the “Bye Felicia”, as Keith Olbermann would (and actually did) say, in the sixth. However, they still had the sizzling hot Victor Martinez and seemingly, regardless of early 3 games to 1 advantage Cleveland technically has on the Tigers in 2014, the Indians number.
Anyway, Tomlin managed to freeze Danny Worth on strike three to end the 13th, but with Mike Aviles, Michael Bourn, and Asdrubal Cabrera due up, the Indians had work to do in the home-half of the frame. Down in the count against Phil Coke, Aviles hit one towards the hole at short that Worth could quite squeeze in the glove, and stood on first, representing the tying-run. Bourn, who according to Hamilton, is not the best sacrifice bunter the game has ever seen, laid one down the third base line so poetically that a radio listener may have ascertained scholars would talk about and praise for years. He was thrown out at first, and as my late-night viewing of Olbermann would reveal, he probably shouldn’t have been. Whatever, no need for Hammy to torch a guy with bad hammies in this situation.
Asdrubal Cabrera would be next, and Coke put the 2-1 pitch into his knee cap; the words from the WTAM call left me to wonder if Cabrera would be able to finish the season, let alone the game. Only Yan Games remained on the bench, not exactly your ideal pinch-runner, so after a few minutes, the Indians shortstop limped to first as the potential game-winning run. That meant one out and a runner in scoring position for Ben Maller’s favorite player to be named later against the Detroit southpaw. Left-on-right, left-on-left, it doesn’t matter for Michael Brantley, who delivered with a ground ball to the left side, which Aviles legged out from second to tie the game at 10 apiece.
No sooner than Gene Lamont, assuming the skipper role from Brad Asumus, who got the heave-ho in the Cabrera aftermath, summoned Monday’s goat Alburquerque from the ‘pen, did Terry Francona call Justin Sellers back to the dugout. Now, it was time for Yan Gomes to step into the right-handed batters box against the right-hander. Albuquerque tried two sliders, which went wide with no chase from Gomes, and then stopped the charade and put the Tribe’s usual starting catcher on first to load them up from former-Tiger Ryan Raburn.
It all came down to this at-bat, Raburn stepped in, and the strangest thing happened next. Alburquerque flinched!
“And a balk! Ballgame! How about that! WE NOW HAVE SEEN EVERYTHING! A walk-off balk! Unbelievable, Cabrera scores the winner on a walk-off balk!”
I am not sure it’s possible to transcribe any part of Hamilton’s note-worthy calls without the over-use of exclamation points. Happy to spend my Wednesday afternoon with you, Tom. Happy to be an Indians fan, like everyone back in Cleveland. Happy to have the option to listen to radio call from Chicago.
11-10, Tribe wins! What a game, even the limited parts I caught; I sincerely hope it springboards us into “What a season!” mode. All in all, I’m quite content with the balk-off. A win is a win.
Yesterday, I saw multiple reports that shook my inner Indians fan to its core.
First Buster Olney said this…
Some rival evaluators believe that Shin-Soo Choo will now land in Detroit, to play LF. We’ll see.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 21, 2013
Then reports surfaced that Robinson Cano was on his way to Kansas City to sign with the Royals.
If you’re an Indians fan, this all hurts tremendously.
First of all, the Tigers, should they sign Shin-Soo Choo, might just be the best team in baseball. Take a gander at this lineup, should Shin Soo make his way to the Motor City.
That lineup at its face value could easily take on any in the league. Meanwhile, Detroit houses baseball’s best pitching staff.
The worst part of it all is that Dave Dombrowski seems to be on a World Series mission and will use all of the cash in the world to get there.
In other words, they’re not done yet. Not even close.
While the Tigers will certainly have the upper hand on the Indians seemingly regardless of the situation, the Tribe could at least compete with a Choo-less Tigers lineup. Once you put the former Indians star at the top of that order, who knows just how far the talent gap will grow.
All the while, Omar Vizquel has taken the job of first base coach in Detroit.
First Victor. Then Omar. Now Choo?
Detroit is slowly but surely destroying the Indians and their fan-base former player by former player.
Meanwhile, another AL Central team seems be on a mission and ready to spend some cash.
Rumors yesterday are showing that Robinson Cano may just be the newest member of the Kanas City Royals, in what would be an earth shattering development. Should that splash happen, the Royals could easily move into the second rung of the AL Central ladder and could become a legitimate World Series contender.
Add in the top end of their pitching staff and they might be one of the most under-the-radar teams in all of baseball.
First, the Tigers go out and get much better by moving Miguel Cabrera to first base, adding Ian Kinsler to the mix and potentially adding Shin-Soo Choo. Then, the Royals get the most highly sought after free agent in all of baseball.
Of course these are both hypothetical, but reported, circumstances, but in any case, can the Indians catch a break?
Sure, the Indians did get better on Wednesday by signing David Murphy to take over the everyday right field duties, but the Indians can’t compete with the suddenly big market teams in Detroit and Kansas City, should these deals go down.
The worst part is, there’s really nothing they can do about it. The Indians don’t have the money to put a bid in on Robinson Cano. They can’t make a deal to bring back Choo. They just simply can’t make these splashes as, apparently, Detroit and Kansas City can.
This is all to say, Indians fans, that maybe last year, despite its heartbreak towards the end, was as good as its going to get. Maybe the magic that Jason Giambi, Nick Swisher and Ubaldo Jimenez brought to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario last season was as good as its going to get for a while.
The Tigers and Royals may be on the verge of taking over the American League and leaving the lowly Indians, White Sox and Twins in the dust.
Despite all of the good that Terry Francona, Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro have done for the Indians and for the city of Cleveland, it may all be for naught. The Indians, for the forseeable future, may be trapped in the dark, vast dungeon of the American League Central Division.
Is there anything they can do to get out, should Choo and Cano sign within this division?
Yes, but it would be very, very unlikely.
First of all could get out of the dungeon by getting lucky again and again as they did last season with Scott Kazmir, Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles. If Antonetti continues to pull off moves such as those, the Indians can compete.
Even then, however, things will still be difficult.
They would still have to spend money to solidify their rotation, which is decent but needs a little help. They would also need prospects like Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Jesus Aguilar to be all that we expected and more.
Again, its not impossible, just very, very unlikely.
Other than that, just hope that these two rumors were nothing but. Hope that Choo and Cano sign with the Yankees, as that organization is a continual mess.
If you’re an Indians fan, however, just accept that should Cano and Choo sign in the Central, the new era of Indians excellence may come to a tragic and screeching halt.
All of the hope and optimism could be over with a few simple swoops of a fateful pen. Enjoy it, Tribe fans, because very soon, the fun could be over.
It’s been over for nearly two weeks.
The Detroit Tigers’ latest assault on that elusive fifth World Series title fell short last Sunday, as Shane Victorino’s Game 6 grand slam (which is still airborne) catapulted the Boston Red Sox into the World Series (which they are expected to win within the next two days). The Tigers became the first team to reach the ALCS in three consecutive seasons since the New York Yankees made four in a row between 1998 and 2001. The Yankees won the World Series in 1998, 1999, and 2000, and were one win from another championship in 2001. The Tigers have won the pennant once out of these three appearances and won exactly zero games in the ensuing World Series. Pretty stark contrast.
Going so far as to call the 2013 season a “failure” appears at first glance to be a bit harsh, but consider that the organization’s brain trust has stated time and time again (especially over the past two seasons) that the goal of the Detroit Tigers is to win the World Series. They were very active at the trade deadline this season and last. They spent MORE THAN $500 MILLION DOLLARS to tie up three players: Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Justin Verlander. The Tigers have had three good teams over the past three seasons, but they all had the same fatal flaw: a failure to score in the postseason. The Tigers averaged only 3.2 runs per game in the 2013 postseason, and have averaged 3.4 runs per game over the past three Octobers. The 2013 edition was extra-special because of their abysmal bullpen; the bullpen that cost Max Scherzer two wins in the ALCS and blew three wins for Detroit overall. The team appeared to be constructed well enough, yet there’s no championship. And when the franchise credo is “World Series or bust” and the franchise doesn’t win the World Series, then yeah, there’s a mildly compelling argument that 2013 was a failure, despite the third consecutive division title, despite the likely Cy Young Award for Scherzer, and despite the very strong possibility of another MVP award for Cabrera.
The Tigers’ latest postseason power outage cost them their manager, as Jim Leyland elected to step down after eight seasons on the job. As much vitriolic crap as Leyland frequently got from scores of angry Detroit fans, there’s no denying the impact he had on the club. When he arrived in 2006, the Tigers were irrelevant. They lost 119 games in 2003, their last winning season was 1993, and their last playoff appearance was in 1987. Since 2006, the Tigers have recorded the following: six winning seasons, four playoff appearances (three times as division champion), and two pennants. What that means: Jim Leyland is the second-best manager in Tigers history, right behind Sparky Anderson.
Now, regarding this team’s future. The way this writer sees it, there are two feasible routes the Tigers can go (no, neither of them involve hiring Dusty Baker and spending $250 million on Robinson Cano):
1) hire a younger manager from outside the organization (Brad Ausmus, Torey Lovullo, Tim Wallach), trade potential 2014 free agent Scherzer, and begin to utilize younger/unproven players on the major league roster (whether it be from the Scherzer trade or to fill voids left by the departures of free agents Joaquin Benoit, Omar Infante, and Jhonny Peralta). At the end of 2014, let Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez walk as free agents, and *consider* moving 2015 free agent Cabrera (unless he takes a discount), In other words, lay the foundation for a rebuild.
2) hire from within (Tommy Brookens, Jeff Jones, Lloyd McClendon), keep the band together (perhaps add an impact free agent because #MikeIlitchPizzaMoney), and give it another go in 2014. Extend Cabrera and/or Scherzer to keep a semblance of a championship window open for the next few years.
The rumors of the Tigers shopping Scherzer won’t go away, and with three guys making $20 million per year already on the payroll, general manager Dave Dombrowski may have to consider how to cut costs and get maximum value back for some of his assets. The Tigers’ farm system is one of the worst in baseball now, and it must be replenished eventually. Going route #1 would be disappointing to many fans, but no one really knows how much more 84 year-old owner Mike Ilitch can or will spend to rope in a title. And the current “win now” approach hasn’t paid all the dividends it was expected to.
Route #2 would appease hungry fans and likely keep the Tigers in that upper echelon in MLB. However, the farm system would still be in tatters and the Tigers would be paying at least $20 million per season to FOUR players for the next several years. Close to half the payroll would be tied up in two pitchers and two hitters, and at least three will be getting paid well into their late-30’s, unless a Marlins-esque salary dump occurs. This payroll constriction will be a problem in the years to come if the Tigers develop any top-flight prospects in the next year or so, or if secondary guys on the roster need a raise.
The Tigers are definitely a team to watch this offseason because of all the questions they have to answer. They’ve blown two golden opportunities to win a World Series for Mr. Ilitch and a rabid fanbase over the last two Octobers, and 2013 could very well prove to be the swan song for this era of Tigers baseball. Only time will tell.
Four long and brutal days ago, I wrote this piece filled with my hopes and dreams for the Cleveland Indians and their upcoming series with the Detroit Tigers.
Today, I sit dejected, mulling over my thoughts and searching for any kind of answer.
What just happened?
Four days ago, the Indians were three games out in the AL Central Division and in the lead for the second AL Wild Card. Today, they’re seven games back of Detroit and three games back of the Wild Card spot.
Four days ago, Corey Kluber pitched, Mark Reynolds sat on the bench, and Ryan Raburn was still on a minor league contract. Today, Corey Kluber is on the DL, Mark Reynolds is no longer a Cleveland Indian, and Ryan Raburn is now a Cleveland Indian for the next two years.
Four days ago, I was filled with hope and optimism for this Tribe team. Today, I am working as hard as possible to keep up my optimism and my passion for this Indians team.
Only so much could happen in four days, you would think. In the past four days, however, it seemed as if the Indians completely fell apart.
It started in the ninth inning on Monday, an inning I was there to see. As I sat in the bleachers, I watched Chris Perez blow his first save since his return from the DL and break the collective spirit of the city of Cleveland at the same time.
In one mighty swing, Alex Avila may have crushed the Indians playoff hopes for this season.
Game two was more of a laugher, as Justin Verlander was essentially untouchable. Throwing by far his best game of the season just in time for the Indians, they had no chance of beating him, especially with Don Kelly’s .458 batting average against Justin Masterson.
Then came game three, the most heartbreaking of them all.
A back and fourth 14 inning affair when the stars shone brightest for the Tribe. Danny Salazar was incredible in his 7.2 innings of work. Nick Swisher finally got it going offensively, hitting two RBI doubles and putting the Indians ahead by a run. It seemed as if in the “must win” game of the series, the Indians were going to get the job done.
The bullpen was masterful for 5.1 innings until Prince Fielder, again, destroyed the city’s hope in one fell swoop, banging a gaper off of the newly acquired Mark Rzepcynski.
Nevertheless, the Tribe wasn’t done. Two out hits from Mike Aviles and Michael Bourn set up a scenario in which they were down a run with a man on third and two outs; a chance to comeback once again. Unfortunately, the hole that would have normally been filled by Nick Swisher instead held Drew Stubbs, who ultimately failed to deliver.
Down 3-0, the Indians had to face Max Scherzer, the undoubted 2013 Cy Young winner, and had no chance from the get go. For many Tribe fans, they just wanted to see the series end, regardless of where the Indians are.
10 runs later, the Indians fell to 0-4 in their biggest series since 2007 and in the meantime lost one of their most reliable starters, least reliable power hitters, and that budding optimism that kept fans around the ballpark for the entire series.
Long story short, the Indians blew their chance in so many ways.
First of all, they blew a chance to prove that they belonged in the race for the AL Central. Clearly Detroit is a MUCH better team, but it seemed as if the Indians didn’t belong in the same breath as the mighty Tigers.
They also blew a chance to put this talk of an annual “August Collapse” – a thing in which I did not believe that I’m starting to put some thought into – and keep the Cleveland fans in the ballpark for the rest of the season. The Browns played a very nice game last night and in doing so, may have turned the focus of this town to the gridiron.
Finally, and worst of all, the Indians fell three games back in the Wild Card- their seemingly only route to the playoffs thus far. It seemed as if the Indians were all but a lock to contend for the play-in-game, but now even that seems far off in the distance.
So what do we do now? What do they do now? The questions have piled up in ways they wouldn’t have, should the Indians have won a game or two in this series.
For the Indians, the most important thing to do is to show resilience. While they are on the precipice of a stunning collapse, there is no reason why they should fall. They’re not an elite-level baseball team like the Tigers, but they’re also certainly not the 2012 Cleveland Indians either. Stay away from the August collapse and hope that it’s good enough for a Wild Card berth; just take things day-by-day. The AL Central chapter is over. Open up a new chapter, the Wild Card chapter, and find the love, hope, and optimism that you possessed just before this heartbreaking set. It’s as easy, and as difficult, as that.
For the fans, just keep the faith. Just keep watching this team until they have in fact “collapsed” in the month of August. I truly believe that this team will meet my expectations and hunt for the Wild Card deep into September, but most fans don’t share my optimism. The fact of the matter is, the only way to keep fans around is to win, and in the biggest series of the year, they didn’t. Now, they have to start winning again and giving this town reason to believe in their Tribe.
Regardless of what you may say, Cleveland is itching for the Tribe to return to the playoffs, despite the Browns and their season. Cleveland hasn’t seen the playoffs since 2010 and would support any team that got them back to the promised land.
While this has been a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, and demoralizing week, just believe. Believe that this team is going to prove to us that they’re in this for the long-haul. Give them the opportunity to prove to us that they deserve to have our butts in those seats. Give them the opportunity to prove that despite their recent struggles, they’re still a strong and resilient baseball team.
Despite this horrible, terrible, awful week, I still have faith that this is the team that’s going to get us back in the postseason, be it this year or next. Until that becomes fact, however, don’t give up on this team. They’ve done too much to this point to have their fans abandon them just as the going got rough.
Although it’s tough, and the wind is completely out of our sails, this season isn’t done yet. There’s still a month and a half to go and it’s an “easy” month and a half in terms of the schedule.
Believe that this Indians team won’t fall short of our expectations again.
It’s not over.
Not even close.
Yeah, go ahead and laugh. I’ll wait. I’ve got nowhere else to be, really. It’s really not any easier for me to type out that John Lackey should be considered a serious Cy Young Award candidate than it is for you to read it, I promise. Trust me, I know of where I come. These are just some of the less than kind words I had to share about John Lackey one day last December. I’ve spent as many words castigating John Lackey as I have almost any other athlete.
Sure, I’ve had a couple of ‘nice’ things to say about Lackey, too, but even then, there was usually a cut to them. In my defense, John Lackey had earned most of those shots. In his first three seasons with Boston, John Lackey had compiled a 26-23 record, with an ERA significantly north of 5 while collecting just about $50 million in salary for the Red Sox. He also missed the entire 2012 season (smart call there) which earned him a sweet $500k extension for the 2015 season.