Indians

The Cleveland Indians choked

The Cleveland Indians choked. The Cleveland Indians were the favorite. They had home-field advantage. They had the presumptive Cy Young Award winner—pitching twice. They had multiple MVP candidates. They had one of the deepest, most dominant bullpens in the game. They had the best manager to sit in the Indians’ dugout since I have been old enough to pay attention. They took all those positive and turned it into a negative when they got knocked out in the ALDS, losing three consecutive games. You can soft sell it all you want, but the Indians choked.

There’s nobody that I’d rather have managing my favorite baseball team than Terry Francona. He’s not infallible, however, and he made a lot of questionable decisions. There were questionable decisions last year, but they largely worked out. You trust Tito because you expect him to have more information and understand personalities and emotions to a level that no outsider ever could. When it works, it’s possible he gets too much credit. When it doesn’t, he has to take a little bit too much blame. This postseason, Tito’s roster decisions backfired whether we’re talking about Corey Kluber and the starting rotation, or the lack of non-rusty players ready and willing to contribute.

Speaking of Kluber, I love the fact that he tried to go out there and battle when he was “healthy enough” to pitch. However, it feels like a lost opportunity that the Indians watched him struggle in two games while the team got barely any utilization out of Josh Tomlin and Michael Clevinger while only pitching Carlos Carrasco once. Tomlin made 30 pitches in three innings of work while Clevinger threw 50 in less than two innings of work. Based on what we can presume Kluber’s health status ended up being, it’s fair to say the Indians could have reorganized their rotation to better compete against the Yankees. Carrasco only ended up making one brilliant appearance, throwing 85 pitches in what ended up being a 1-0 loss in New York.

There are a lot more things you can pick on with the Indians at the fringes. Not pinch-hitting in Game 5 looks kind of atrocious in the box score. The lack of production from roster add-ons like Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley instead of younger and possibly healthier options weighs heavily today. And even still, none of it probably matters as much as the fact that the Indians just choked.

As time moves on and as this team continues to be a contender, this season has a great chance to look like a success, but only if they do better next year.

When you take a series lead and squander it with seven errors in two games, you don’t get to say you didn’t beat yourself. I wouldn’t trade Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez for anyone in the majors. That said, when two of your best hitters go 2-for-18 at the plate and 2-for-20 at the plate, respectively, it’s hard to think that the Indians were just a pinch-hitter or two away from winning the series. They also combined for 13 strikeouts. Didi Gregorious matched them by himself with four hits, undoubtedly elevating his team. Sure, Lindor will always have the grand slam, and it was one of the greatest moments of the series, but it’s hard for it to live on in history with a 100-win season ending in the first round of the playoffs.

In so many ways, the 2017 Cleveland Indians’ season was a success. Fans been clamoring for a contention window that included multiple playoff appearances, and the Indians accomplished that. We’ve clamoring for the Indians to have star players who you could believe in and they have that thanks to Kluber, Lindor, Ramirez, and even Carrasco. They topped it off by making history with their impossibly fun winning streak. As time moves on and as this team continues to be a contender, this season has a great chance to look like a success, but only if they do better next year.

If the Indians don’t get back to the playoffs next year and get out of the first round, this will not be viewed as a success. It will be seen as a turning point for the worse. That’s how these things go. It might not be fair, and we know nobody in that clubhouse wants to lose, but the burden of expectations is real. If the Indians had this same run last year, it wouldn’t be a choke job.

As of right now, the Indians peaked in 2016 and it’s all been downhill since. It’s up to them to change it, but they’ll have to re-tool the roster and get back on that regular-season MLB treadmill to do it all over again. It’s up to them to change the narrative. Right now, after ascending to the World Series and losing in Game 7 in 2016, and yielding to the Yankees in the ALDS, the story line will rightly read that this was a choke job by the 2017 Cleveland Indians.

  • CBiscuit

    The Browns have maintained suckitude but at least they don’t get our hopes up too high…like ever. Man, the level at which the Indians consistently crush hopes, kick us in the balls, and stab us in the gut is really the utmost in Cleveland sports (95, 97, 07, 16, 17, probably forgetting some).

    What a meltdown. Aside from the game 1 pitching gem, I never felt like this team had “it.” Defensive ineptitude, awful at bats by the heart of the order, choke job of Kluber twice in the series. The lack of leadership and lack of wanting it was there. None of the A listers or even B listers in that lineup ever really stepped up.

    Frankie Smiles was not Frankie hit or Frankie defense. Kipnis was a black hole. JRam was a disaster. Brantley was a corpse. Clevinger and Salazar were duds. EE, while hurt a bit, was zero factor. The list goes on.

    About the only players who stepped up were Bauer (who pitched brilliantly in game 1 and was thwarted by our defensive blunders in game 4), Jay Bruce, Perez (who really seems to shine in the playoffs), and the pen in general.

    For all their 102 games won and the big streak…what an incredible dud the 2017 Indians were. The Yankees wanted it more, and we didn’t play like we deserved to win. While they were the weaker team on paper, they plain beat us.

  • jpftribe

    Hey Craig, nice piece. I often find it a challenge to make sense of all the swirling thoughts in my cranium, and you do it so well with a great sense of balance.
    Wish it was different, but the hard reality is they did not come close to performing at the level they are capable of when it counted the most.

  • Eric G

    Game 1 was well pitched, and even more so game 3. They held the HR (and K) leader for the season to one (two?) hit, albeit a somewhat important one.

    You could say Edwin being out was pivotal, but I think the HR-robbing catch by that monster in LF changed the series. Game 4 might have been the worst played baseball game of the season, at the absolute worst time. And then last night, there was some sign of life, but you just sensed that they weren’t going to do it – even after the SHOTHO double play in the 6th. CC plowed through the first 3 innings perfectly, then Robertson just seemed to know how to pitch to everyone the whole series.

    There are a lot of FO decisions coming for big names – Lindor, Santana, Bruce, Allen, Shaw, Bauer, Salazar. Could be a very different team next year.

  • Bulldogs_3

    It was a disappointing series, but an incredible season. As painful as it is when the season is over, this is way better than not making the playoffs or not being a contender.

  • MartyDaVille

    Of all the people we can blame for this (if assigning blame is what we want to do), Tito doesn’t make my top 10.

    Fortunately (?), some of us more seasoned fans are used to this and we’ve built up plenty of scar tissue, so these things don’t hurt as much as they used to. Back in the day, I’d be curled up on the couch in the fetal position sucking my thumb for a week.

    BTW, we never had an earthly chance. Here’s a photo of the man from whose loins both Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge were spawned:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2a4ec9c06f12a127054943c6a1bd70467e82ed3b730b730cb87b5afcfa0f542b.jpg

  • jpftribe

    Ha! I watched this episode last week!

  • Chris
  • CBiscuit

    Yeah Gardner is a peen head. Plus the Yankees in general have a lot of punchable dopey faces–Sanchez and most of all Todd Frazier (who reminds me a little of JK Simmons) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b860cc000835c2a732ff5baa472e58448b1b85c020580b521a6939c1be830eb1.jpg

  • Natedawg86

    Keep the Indians off the darn SI cover until after the season!

  • Chris

    Two consecutive closeout games… 7 errors?
    Lindor/Jose/Edwin/Brantley… 5 for 56?
    AL Cy Young… 12.79 ERA in two starts?
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/79ddf5837444ecc5152205305e47790ca60a8c7ee7bb51de9c55e44b0bbbe21a.gif

  • I’d be curious to see that top 10 list, because Tito would definitely make mine. Not number one, but he’s on it.

  • Steve

    “When it doesn’t, he has to take a little bit too much blame.”

    He never does. Not even close. Teflon Terry will skate as usual.

  • WFNY_DP

    I, for one, am mad that the best manager this team has had in the modern era isn’t 100% infallible. FIRE HIS ASS NOW

  • Steve

    Yes, that is a pretty succinct summary of what I said.

    Actually it demonstrates my point to perfection. Francona gets criticized, and instead of reasonable responses, out comes the strawmen.

  • WFNY_DP

    Wait, wait, I’m the one creating a straw man?

    You literally used the phrase “Teflon Terry” in your comment, which is about as hyperbolic as it gets while in the other thread basically insinuating that he’s riding the coattails of Mickey Callaway. It reads like a comparison to, say, Brian Kelly at Notre Dame who has made a career there out of blaming any and everybody else for his failures.

    “As usual.”

    So, there is a litany of things for which he deserves criticism that he hasn’t yet received? Beyond this playoff series? Please, do tell.

    Francona deserves criticism for this, and by all accounts (here and elsewhere) he’s getting it. One also can’t ignore that he was hugely responsible for getting an inferior team to extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series last year.

    Yet, if I infer correctly, you’d rather he be gone for someone else who doesn’t just “skate” by on his reputation. To me, THAT is a straw man.

    If that’s not the thrust of your comment, I’m more than willing to listen to a more detailed explanation, sincerely.

  • JM85

    I’m usually optimistic but not today. There’s nothing successful about this season.

  • Steve

    “You literally used the phrase “Teflon Terry” in your comment, which is about as hyperbolic”

    Yup, I won’t deny that nicknames are not necessarily serious analysis. I’ve been calling him that for a while now as I have pointed out where criticism skips past him.

    “insinuating that he’s riding the coattails of Mickey Callaway.”

    I didn’t insinuate anything.

    “So, there is a litany of things for which he deserves criticism that he hasn’t yet received? Beyond this playoff series? ”

    Absolutely, and, like I said (not insinuated) above, if you had been in any of the Indians threads for the past couple years, you wouldn’t need to ask these questions.

    “One also can’t ignore that he was hugely responsible for getting an inferior team to extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series last year. . . .

    Let me prove this by showing zero evidence.”

    “Yet, if I infer correctly, you’d rather he be gone for someone”

    You didn’t infer correctly. Nowhere did I say to fire him. And even after I point out that saying to fire him was a strawman, you have somehow thought that was still the correct interpretation.

  • Steve

    This one really stings. It demonstrates the crapshoot that is the playoffs and how when you get that close (last year) there’s no guarantees that you’ll get back even with a better roster.

  • JNeids

    Damnit CB! Now you’ve gone and ruined JK for me!

  • tsm

    Overall, Tito has done a great job. He is excellent at creating an environment of success and confidence for his players. He does have weaknesses. One is that he is loyal to a fault to his veterans. He is also not the best in game strategist. This doesn’t make him a poor manager, just not a perfect one. Kipnis had no business in CF and Brantley was not prepared to hit. I would have liked to see Diaz on the roster instead of Brantley.

  • Steve

    The either letting a player talk his way back into the lineup or rotation or not recognizing the seriousness of an injury is the biggest pitfall of the Francona era.

    Pointing out the ineffectiveness of bunting, or stop letting Bauer and Tomlin face Hosmer a third time seems like they should be easy things to fix. I’m not sure how we get over this one though.

  • WFNY_DP

    I’m going to take a step back, admit that I made a mistake, and apologize for that.

    My original reply was half meant as sarcasm (I thought that all caps was the sarc. font back in the day, perhaps that’s changed). I should have, in hindsight, just said this instead of my second, longer reply:

    “I agree that Francona deserves criticism for this series. I don’t think he’s a consistent problem for this club. I was being sarcastic in implying you thought he should be fired.”

    I didn’t mean for it to come across as a strawman argument, and I should have also realized that the series loss made me way more defensive about your reply than I should have been.

    I always say we all should assume a positive intent, and I’m guilty of not practicing what I preach.

    I disagree with your feeling that Francona deserves more criticism than he gets, on the whole, but am able to admit that I handled this poorly and will move on.

  • Saggy

    If Kluber wants to pitch, you throw him out there. No questions on that. But to not use Clevinger when you’re pitching Bauer on short rest is beyond me.

    I think Francona got caught up in high-school-poitics: his gambit paid off in Game 1 but instead of using Clevinger, a reliable arm that the Yankees hadn’t seen yet, he went back to Bauer on short rest because he was afraid to not pitch him again. Francona should have thanked Bauer for winning Game 1 and moved on. Especially since Kluber was injured.

  • Saggy

    Remember growing up and arguing that you’d take a bunch of close losses because you’d rather know what it felt like to be “in it?” I’d still rather get kicked in the balls than not have them at all.

  • Saggy

    Bunting is generally ineffective but would you rather have a guy who hits .193 bunt (as long as he has that skill) or swing away? I bet the outcomes are heavily skewed toward the sacrifice in that situation. I just don’t like the general argument that bunting is always bad. Mostly, yes, but not always.

  • CBiscuit

    Yeah, I’m sure you’re right. Once I finish icing down my boys in the next couple of days, I might come around to that realization.

  • Steve

    Bunting for a hit is good. But bunting to give away an out is roughly a .000 batting average. That still seems lower than .193. Sure, maybe the defense screws up. Maybe we should have a better strategy than to hope the opposition screws up.

  • Steve

    “No questions on that”

    Yes question that. He is their boss, not their buddy. Its his job to put them in the best position to win not just placate them.

  • RGB
  • Saggy

    I know the numbers suggest – by a pretty large margin – that 1st base 0 outs is better than 2nd base 1 out.

    It’s still situational. I don’t want my pitcher swinging away, and I’d rather have a hitter with a crap average bunting if he can. maybe the fielders muff it, maybe they throw to 2nd and don’t get the out. I swing most of the time but there’s no way I’m saying it’s always better to do so. There are significantly more DPs on swings than on bunts.

    I’m not getting into this debate, just reminding anyone that numbers are always situational.

  • Saggy

    When your best guy is CLEARED to pitch, he pitches. If a guy is healthy enough to be out there, he plays. That’s all there is to it. Everyone is hurt. Unless you’re injured, you play.

    It has nothing to do with being a boss or a buddy – if Corey Kluber – the best pitcher in baseball – can pitch, he pitches.

  • tsm

    I think the exception to this was in game 3 when Kipnis hit his triple. Ramirez had been swinging at terrible pitches and he had a better chance of executing a squeeze in my view.

  • He Hate Cans

    In a lot of the casual conversations I’ve had this year a frequent topic is “Is this team better than the Indians of the 90’s? I think they might be. Could they be?”

    Well, we have an answer (at least for the moment) and that is: no, they are not better than the team of the 90’s. They’ve lost a WS and they’ve lost an ALDS. I hope next year they can prove me wrong, but as is, this is the 2nd best Indians team I’ve ever seen.

  • Steve

    “can pitch, he pitches.”

    Well, except when he pitches like that.

  • Steve

    So far, they’re on exactly the same path as the 95-96 Indians. And actually, they’ve gotten one game further each year. I’m not sure how that means they are worse.

  • Steve

    “just reminding anyone that numbers are always situational.”

    This is a nothing statement. Anything we want can change to be applicable to any situation we can dream up.

    When we have to move to the NL and decide how often our pitchers should be bunting, I’m willing to hear your situational analysis. Until then, not even Urshela hits .193.

  • Saggy

    Stupidest comment of the day award.

    That’s why he got pulled that early.

    Do you think that if your best pitcher is cleared to pitch you shouldnt play him?

    Think back to that high school/college/pro sports team you were on…imagine your best player being told he can’t play even though he is healthy and cleared to. Yeah, that’ll go over well.

  • Saggy

    Or, here’s a “situation:”

    Team makes too many changes and runs out of fielders so a pitcher has to hit. Yes, that happens in the AL.

    I’m right – you’re wrong. Live with it.

    Go ahead, have your pitcher swing away. I can see Bartolo’s helmet right now…

  • Steve

    Good ahead and tell me how many times that happened this year. I’ll wait.

  • Steve

    He shouldn’t have been so easily cleared, as mentioned above, an issue for this team. He wasn’t ready to pitch like the Cy Young winning Kluber.

    He got pulled early because, incorrectly, results get valued over process. If you thought that Kluber was our best pitcher beforehand, you should have thought so in the third inning. That he was pulled in the third is evidence that Francona realized was wrong about Kluber being healthy and cleared.

  • itsallonething

    true. it just hurts knowing that feeling i had after game 2 like this was a guarantee. now I’m so low. thems the breaks

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