Boy, time flies when the football team goes 0-16 and the basketball team trades half its players, doesn’t it?
But the Indians, bless their stable, efficient little hearts, are back.
Spring training is here.
The Indians’ first workout is today.
Let’s hope it goes better than their last workout.
That, of course, was that kick-in-the-gut 5-2 loss to the Yankees, in the fifth and deciding game of last year’s Division Series.
The Indians won 102 games in the regular season, but only two in the postseason. What should they work on in spring training? How about closing out a postseason series?
Over the last five years, the Indians have won 454 games, 22 more than any other American League team. But in their last two postseason series, the Indians’ record in clinching games is 0-6. They blew a 3-1 lead to the Cubs in the 2016 World Series and a 2-0 lead to the Yankees in last year’s Division Series.
Still, the Indians’ 102 wins last year are the second most in the 117-year history of the franchise. They have the best manager in the major leagues, and one of the most respected front offices in the game.
What they don’t have — still — is a World Series title that any of us were alive to enjoy. Well, almost any of us. In fact — Happy Anniversary! — 2018 is the 70th anniversary of the Indians’ last World Series title, in 1948.
How long ago was that? The last time the Indians won the World Series, Napoleon Lajoie, Connie Mack, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, Cy Young and Ty Cobb were all still alive.
But hope springs eternal, so let’s spring!
Here are five things that can’t happen if the Indians are to win the World Series for the first time in 70 years:
- Major injuries to more than one from the following group: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor and Andrew Miller:
Elite teams can survive losing one key player for an extended period of time — the Philadelphia Eagles, thanks to Nick Foles, proved that — but losing more than one star player to a major injury? Fugetaboutit.It’s hard to imagine the Indians winning 100, or even 95, games if more than one of the above core players pitch a tent on the disabled list simultaneously. If, for example, the Indians lost Kluber and Carrasco to injury for a large chunk of the season, you can chuck that chunk right into the dumpster.
- The bullpen is not one of the best in the league: In winning 102 games last year, Indians relievers led the league in ERA, WHIP and opponents’ on-base percentage, and were second in slugging percentage and OPS.
From that group, the Indians lost workhorse Bryan Shaw, who in the last five years has pitched in 378 games, 15 more than any other pitcher in the majors, and Joe Smith, who in 21 appearances with the Indians struck out 20, faced 70 batters and didn’t walk any of them.
This is the golden age of bullpens, thanks in large part to Terry Francona, who in the last two years has redefined how the game views relievers usage. To saddle Francona with a substandard bullpen is to ask Michelangelo to paint a masterpiece without any brushes.
- Jose Ramirez not being Jose Ramirez: You want a great stat? Number of career seasons with 50 or more doubles: Jose Ramirez – 1; Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig combined — 1.
What does Ramirez bring to the table? Everything, including the table. Nobody on the team contributes to victories in more ways — offense, defense, speed, hustle, and he hits good pitching.
Want another great stat? Ramirez’s combined batting average last year against Craig Kimbrel, Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Marcus Stroman, Yu Darvish, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and Dallas Keuchel was .537.
- An outfield filled with singles hitters: Home runs last year: Aaron Judge 52, all Indians outfielders 50. Last year Lonnie Chisenhall led Indians outfielders in home runs with 12. That ranked 106th in the American League.
- An off year by the starting rotation: This is the least likely to happen, but the most likely to cause a doomsday season if it does. Kluber has won the Cy Young Award in two of the last four years and Carrasco has finished fourth and 13th in the voting in two of the last three years.
Among AL pitchers with at least 120 innings pitched last year, Kluber (6.23) and Mike Clevinger (6.81) ranked 1-2 in fewest hits allowed per nine innings — and Clevinger isn’t even a lock to be in the rotation this year. Trevor Bauer is, and only two right-handed pitchers in the majors won more games than he did last year — Kluber and Carrasco.
Come to think of it, never mind.
I wouldn’t stay up nights worrying about the Indians’ starting rotation.