No hitting, plus no defense, plus no bullpen, plus no fight, equals no chance.
It’s all over now, and major changes will most certainly have to be made in the offseason. The Indians are done playing ball in 2018, after playing their three worst games of the season in their three biggest games of the season.
All three were various degrees of gruesome. But the shocking 11-3 drop kick administered by the Houston Astros to the Central Division champions (how empty does that sound?) on Monday, completing an overwhelming three-game sweep in a totally uncompetitive ALDS, was the most gruesome of all.
“Playing for their baseball lives,” as manager Terry Francona termed it, playing in front of their home fans, trying to prove they still had a pulse, the Indians laid an egg the size of the Progressive Field scoreboard.
Three errors, two wild pitches, one balk, eight walks, a hit batter — and that was just by the Indians’ pitchers.
The hitters were just as bad, scoring just three runs, two of them coming on a sacrifice fly and a wild pitch. When Houston’s Carlos Correa clubbed a monstrous home run over the center field wall in the eighth inning, the Astros in the series had almost as many home runs (eight) as the Indians had hits (10).
The Indians were outscored 21-6 in the three games. They were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, while Houston was 11-for-30 (.367). As a team, the Indians hit .144 in the three games. Throw out Francisco Lindor, the only Indians hitter who didn’t look overmatched (4-for-11, two home runs), and the rest of the team hit .114.
During the three games the Indians’ bullpen went from suspect to nonexistent. From the sixth inning on, the Astros outscored the Indians 16-3.
It was like Francona showed up for a gunfight with a slingshot. His two best relievers, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, were, for whatever reason, toast. Miller, the MVP in the 2016 ALCS, actually threw a pitch BEHIND one batter in Game 2.
Starter Trevor Bauer, pressed into service as a reliever, was quickly overworked, appearing in all three games, and running out of gas Monday, when he gave up four hits and three runs, and committed two errors in the span of four batters after not making an error all year.
“Not a lot of things went the way we hoped they would,” said Francona, whose team, in the last two years, has lost six consecutive postseason games, three in a row to the Yankees and three in a row to the Astros. In those six games the Indians were outscored 34-11, hitting .148 as a team and .059 (1-for-17) with runners in scoring position.
The Indians have also lost their last eight postseason games when facing elimination, dating to Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the longest such streak in major league history.
But getting taken to the woodshed by the Yankees and Astros the last two years should send a message to the front office that their recipe needs some tweaking.
“We’ve got to go home now, before we’re ready to,” Francona said. “We’ve got a number of guys that are free agents. You know there’s going to be some turnover.”
There SHOULD be some turnover. Blowing a 2-0 lead to the Yankees last year and getting swept by Houston this year screams it.
The numbers are ugly enough, but what the Indians need most is a change in attitude. There’s no edge to the team. No hard-nosed, hard-charging competitors. They have a nice group of productive major leaguers, but perhaps the stoicism of Corey Kluber, Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Carrasco, Yan Gomes, most of the roster, really, needs to be augmented by a player or two willing to move the needle on the team’s emotional meter.
Throw a bat. Glare at an opponent. Argue with an umpire. Anything. This Indians team seems way too comfortable. Maybe it’s a product of playing six months of baseball knowing there is no team in their division that can threaten them.
It was almost like they weren’t ready, after playing a month’s worth of yawners in September, for a high-stakes postseason series with an elite, ultracompetitive team like the Astros, whose leaders are all fiery competitors. Guys like Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and especially Alex Bregman, just to name a few.
The Astros are a great team, and they know it. They show it. The Indians are a nice little team, and they act like it. Their signature and symbolic emotion is Lindor’s smile. There otherwise doesn’t seem to be any edge or personality to this Indians team. An Indians team good enough to win their division, but, in the last two years, to do nothing else.
Where’s Albert Belle when you need him?
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