The Indians are underdogs again. It’s a role that suited them quite well in 2016.
As the favorites last year? Not so much.
I know what you did two, three, 70 years ago doesn’t mean much. Heck, what you did two months ago doesn’t mean much, either.
Still, this has a little of that same old Cleveland against the world feeling — the one when after losing Carlos Carrasco and Michael Brantley to injury, the Indians were sweeping the Red Sox in the ALDS to bring an end to likely Hall of Famer David Ortiz’s career. Trevor Bauer was trying to start with four fingers on his pitching hand and minor leaguer Ryan Merritt was beating the Blue Jays in the ALCS and the Indians were (no business-ingly) taking the best team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs, to seven games in the World Series.
It’s 2018 and everyone’s counting out the Tribe again.
I get it.
The Indians, as a whole, played uninspiring baseball — maybe a little above average — for a large part of the year, coasting to the finish line in the Central Division, which was not arguably the weakest division in the majors.
Record-wise (83-66) through Sunday, they were barley in the top five. No, not in the majors ... IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE!
That’s not all.
The Indians will enter the postseason with the status of their best starting pitcher (at least this year), Bauer, and their top reliever, Andrew Miller, in question thanks to injuries.
Miller recently returned from his third stint on the disabled list and Bauer, who WAS a strong candidate to win the AL Cy Young award, is still on the DL with a stress fracture in his right leg — an injury that has sidelined him since Aug. 12.
Throw in an outfield of All-Star Michael Brantley alongside another Jason Kipnis experiment in center and Melky Cabrera in right, and a bullpen that has been up-and-down all season and I can see why people aren’t banking on the Indians ending their 70-year championship drought.
On the other Brad Hand (see what I did there?), I can also see why some — there are a few out there, I think — that believe they will. And with good reason, in this man’s not-so-humble opinion.
Last time I perused Cleveland’s roster there was a top-shelf rotation with 11⁄2 Cy Young candidates in Bauer (because no one knows which pitcher will return from the injured list), two-time winner Corey Kluber and right-hander Carlos Carrasco — plus another guy named Mike Clevinger, who owns a 12-8 record and 3.06 ERA over 30 starts, should manager Terry Francona choose to employ a four-man rotation in the Division Series — something he didn’t do in last year’s loss to the Yankees.
There’s also a couple of dudes named Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, MVP candidates in a lineup full of producers with track records, including Edwin Encarnacion, who entered the season with more home runs and RBIs than anyone in the majors from 2012-17 and had already hit 31 homers and driven in 99 runs in 126 games through Sunday.
Michael Brantley, one of the game’s best hitters, made the All-Star team for the second straight year, only this time (knock on wood), he is poised to enter October healthy and after playing a full season for the first time since 2015.
Oh, and did ya hear about the new guy, 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson? He’s been sidelined with injuries for most of the season, but he hit a grand slam in his first rehab game, homered again in another minor league postseason game and by Josh did it again when it counted to tie one on the major league level Friday night at Progressive Field.
With Donaldson in the lineup the other day, the Indians employed a former All-Star at every sing;e position on the diamond. I know someone will write and tell me as soon as they can, but when’s the last time that’s ever happened?
Unless we’re talking about an alumni softball gathering, that sounds like a team capable of winning a meaningful professional baseball championship.
Look, I’m not saying the Indians are going to win the World Series. Then again, I’m not saying they’re not. They have what it takes.
And ya know why everyone always says anything can happen in the postseason?
Because it’s true.
- Indians commentary: Tribe needs Jose Ramirez to turn it around at the plate
- Commentary: Bullpen is Tribe's biggest weakness when ALDS opens Friday
- For the third year in a row, there's postseason baseball in Cleveland (PHOTOS)
- Indians manager Terry Francona downplays ace Corey Kluber's recent postseason struggles, chalks latest loss up to a bad day
- Jim Ingraham: Trevor Bauer returns from injury at the perfect time