The baseball season is now over. The St. Louis Cardinals are the World Champions. The Texas Rangers are not. On paper, the Rangers looked like the better team. Their offense was second to none in the Major Leagues. Up and down the Texas lineup were guys that hit for average and power. They had speed and on-base guys at the top, and run producers all the way down. Their bullpen offered more usable depth than the Cardinals had, including the edge at closer. But if you looked at their starting rotation, it was loaded with a bunch of “nice” pitchers, but certainly nobody you would consider an ace.
That had me thinking. There was a team that had great success in a similar fashion, but could never win the big one. This team had a lineup that was the envy of all of baseball, could come back on anyone at anytime, had a solid bullpen, great closer, and average starting pitching. This team also made it to the World Series, but came up short. You know em, you love em. That’s right, I am talking about your 1995 Cleveland Indians.
I was rooting for the Rangers to win. Seeing them against the Indians 10 times this year and watching their relentless offense, I couldn’t help but be impressed. Their lineup, one through nine, seemingly had no holes. Of those 10 games against the Indians, the Rangers won nine times. In seemingly every one of those losses, the Rangers surged late in the game to kill the Tribe spirit. They wore out the Indians pitching staff.
Again, this is so reminiscent of the salad says of Jacobs Field. These teams were built the exact same way. The top two hitters in the Rangers order – Ian Kinsler (.355 OBP, 30 steals, 121 runs, 32 HR, 77 RBs) and Elvis Andrus (.347 OBP, 37 steals, 96 runs, 60 RBIs) – get on base, have speed, and are solid table setters. The ’95 Tribe’s top two – Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel – were the glue to that incredible offensive attack. Kenny hit .310 from the leadoff spot and stole 54 bases, while scoring 93 runs. Omar scored 87 runs, stole 29 bases, and won the gold glove at short.
The middle of the Rangers order is loaded. Former AL MVP Josh Hamilton (.298, 25 HR, 94 RBI) hits third and is a natural with the bat. He is in the middle of his prime and is one of the most well rounded players in the game. Because of the way Ron Washington tiers his lineup, he hits the uber-consistent Michael Young cleanup for contact purposes. A career .304 hitter, Young delivered a .338 season in 2011 while driving in 108 runs. The most impressive part of Young’s season is that he drove in those 108 runs and hit just 11 homers.
Adrian Beltre (.296, 32 HR, 105 RBI) and Nelson Cruz (.263, 29 HR, 87 RBI) hit fifth and six. How about one of those right-handed bats in the middle of the Tribe order next year, huh? I’d take either of those guys all day and plug them in right between Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana. Getting past those two power bats is not an easy feet. Just ask the Detroit Tigers.
Hitting seventh for the Rangers is catcher Mike Napoli, who would have been World Series MVP if the Neftali Feliz didn’t go Jose Mesa in game six. Nothing like a seven hole hitter who hit 30 bombs, drove in 75, and hit .320.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
The Tribe’s meat of the order in ’95 was nearly identical. Like the Hamilton, Young, Beltre, Cruz, Napoli murderer’s row, the Indians boasted a middle five that didn’t have a hole.
Carlos Baerga’s ’95 season was his fourth straight all-star type campaign. He hit .314 with 15 homers and 90 RBIs. Albert Belle was the MVP of the league in ’95, despite being screwed out of the award by the writers in favor of the overrated Mo Vaughn. This was Albert’s 50/52 season where he drove in 126 runs , hit .317, and had an OPS of a staggerring 1.091. Albert was the most feared hitter in the game at that time. He was backup up by legendary DH Eddie Murray. At age 39, Eddie hit .323 with 21 homers and 82 RBIs.
Following Murray was the future stars of Tribe baseball – 24 year old Jim Thome (.314, 25 HR, 73 RBIs) and 23 year old Manny Ramirez (.308, 31 HR, 107 RBI). Both were breakout stars in 1995.
Did we have any idea then how good we had it? How did this team not win a title?
Both the Rangers and the Indians had their first baseman hitting at the bottom. Mitch Moreland (.259, 16 HR, 51 RBIs) was essentially the equivalent of Paul Sorrento .(235, 25 HR, 79 RBIs).
SIDE NOTE – remember when the Indians used to put up “Sorrento 11” on the scoreboard over an Italian flag and a spaghetti bowl? How offensive was that? That’s like them putting up an Israeli flag with a bagel if Shawn Green played for the Tribe. Brutal.
The best starting pitcher the ’95 Tribe had? Debatable on any of their top three – veterans Charlie Nagy, Orel Hershiser, and Dennis Martinez. The Rangers may have called C.J. Wilson their “ace,” but he showed in the playoffs he was far from it. He was followed by up and down Derek Holland, and solid but unspectacular Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison.
The pens were both anchored by fire-balling closers Feliz and Mesa. The Tribe’s best pitching was in their pen that year, with Julian Tavarez (10-1, 2.44 ERA) and Eric Plunk (6-2, 2.67 ERA) from the right and Paul Assenmacher (6-2, 2.82 ERA), Jim Poole (3-3, 3.75 ERA), and a young Alan Embree (23 K’s in 24 innings) from the left. The Rangers made trades to acquire set up man Mike Adams (1.47 ERA, 0.79 WHIP in 75 games) from San Diego and lefty Mike Gonzalez from Baltimore at the deadline. They were joined by veteran lefty Darren Oliver, and their “best arm,” starter Alexi Ogando as the playoffs began.
The bottom line here – these two two are so similar and I see the same thing coming for the Rangers unless they can get a true ace in their rotation. They are built the same way those great Tribe teams of the mid to late 90’s were. How many rings did we get?
(i know i didn’t mention Sandy Alomar/Tony Pena catching duo and Texa’s 9th place hitter David Murphy. You get the gist of the piece.)