CLEVELAND — After advancing to the World Series last year, the same was expected of the Indians this season.
Maybe even more.
Talk about falling short of expectations.
Instead of repeating their magical postseason run, the Indians exited in the first round to put a stunning cap on a year that included 102 regular-season wins and the longest winning streak — 22 games — in American League history.
“Last year, I was so proud of our guys’ efforts and I think they expended everything they had,” manager Terry Francona said. “Yeah, you’re disappointed you didn’t win, but I think pride won out.
“This year, I know it’s hard for people to understand, the season doesn’t wind down — it just comes to a crashing halt. You come into your office one day and you’re going 100 miles an hour. Next day, you come in and it’s over and it’s hard to accept, especially when you don’t want it to be over. You want it to be over on your terms and it didn’t happen that way this year. It’s difficult. Now, we’re not the only team that has to deal with that, but it’s hard.”
After going up 2-0 on the Yankees in the ALDS thanks to a dramatic 13-inning victory at Progressive Field, the Indians hit a wall in New York.
They stopped hitting and fielding — and at times, pitching — losing the last three games of the series, the final one in front of a silenced sellout crowd in Cleveland.
A pair of poor starts from ace Corey Kluber, who is in line to win his second Cy Young award, and a 4-for-38 performance from Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, didn’t help.
Francona shot down speculation Kluber was dealing with lower-back pain, telling reporters it was a mechanical issue.
“We made some errors and I thought that was uncharacteristic of our team,” Francona said. “We were facing a team that had really, really strong pitching and we didn’t hit very much at all. I think some of our hitting was covered up, like in Game 2 by the way we came back. But I think for the five-game series, we hit like .161 or .171.
“We had an OPS barely over .500 and we still almost won the series, but we also shot ourselves in the foot more than once, which makes it really hard. Doesn’t mean you can’t win, but it makes it harder.”
Making it even harder for Francona were the reoccurring health issues that led to a minor heart procedure during the season.
“This was probably the hardest year, physically, that I’ve ever had,” he said. “I don’t remember ever feeling this wiped out at the end of a year. I need to go back home at some point and regroup and work towards next year because I felt like at times this year, I think I made it harder on people, guys like (bench coach Brad Mills). Millsy picked up so much of the slack for me some times — (pitching coach) Mickey (Callaway) and the coaches.
“I don’t want to do that. I’ll get home and really recharge because I feel like if you don’t, you can let some people down and I don’t want to do that, so I’ll make it a point. I couldn’t help what happened with my heart, but I don’t like the feeling of leaning on people so much. They’re supposed to lean on me a little bit more.”
As the Indians turn the focus to 2018, the majority of their players are under contract — the exception being right fielder Jay Bruce and first baseman Carlos Santana. The club also owns an $11 million option on left fielder Michael Brantley next year.
Bruce was a significant contributor upon arriving in a late-season trade from the Mets, but the belief is Cleveland won’t be able to keep both him and Santana.
“Jay made an extraordinary impact both on the field and in the clubhouse in the time he was with us,” team president Chris Antonetti said. “We’ve got a lot of things that we need to work through with our roster and how we configure things next year, but I can tell you that we’ve got a lot of interest in Jay. We’d love to have him back, but we need to figure out exactly how all the pieces fit together.
“We’ve got a lot of business in front of us. Thankfully, we know Frankie (Lindor is) going to be here for a while. We do have some things that we need to work through with guys that are becoming free agents that will be the priority for us at the start of the offseason. Typically, we take a look at our internal extension candidates as we get closer to spring training.”
Players may not be the only ones headed elsewhere. Callaway is interviewing for the manager’s job in Philadelphia and minor league pitching coordinator Ruben Niebla is expected to receive interest on the big league level.
“I’d be surprised if there aren’t guys that teams want to talk to,” Francona said. “We have some really good coaches and I have a feeling that there will be some guys that interview for jobs.”
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