Sunday, March 20 signals the first day of spring where the cold and bluster of winter makes way for, well, more cold and bluster, but with the promise of better days ahead. Opening Day of the MLB season is starting to come into view with 30 teams vying for one prize. It’s a tough line of work. Everybody is so serious. Too many computers, but whatchya gonna do?1
Every champion needs an elite base of corps players to rely on. Sure, it is a 25-man roster that will have more players called up to help navigate injuries, depth matters, and blah, blah, blah. The important thing is having that elite corps. Ten oughta do it. You think we need one more? You think we need one more. All right, we’ll get one more. So, now the number goes to 11.
But, if I’m thinking about this right — and I think that I am — winning a World Series game is probably the least accessible goal imaginable for a team on a $93 million budget who happen to be throwing away $22 million of it on dead money to Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and Chris Johnson.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox each have a $200 million payroll. Not to mention the Indians share the AL Central division with the $192 million pizza-bankrolled Detroit Tigers and defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals. Oh, and did I mention 2016 is an even year, which means the San Francisco Giants are the de facto favorites?
Oops. Actually, you know what, I’m wrong. It’s definitely the least accessible goal imaginable. And, the Indians need to win three more on top of it.
Not that it has never been tried. Oh, it has been tried. A few teams even came close. You know the three most successful Cleveland Indians teams of my lifetime?
Cleveland Indians versus Atlanta Braves (1995)
The Indians steamrolled the competition in the strike-shortened year. Looked completely unstoppable as the team ended a 38-year postseason drought for the team and appeared destined to put the entire community on their broad shoulders. The legends of Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel, and Carlos Baerga were born of this team. And, even guys like Paul Sorrento and and aging Eddie Murray looked great in the lineup. Then, the strike zone expands in the World Series, David Justice hits his shot, and the Atlanta Braves take home their only trophy during a 15-straight-division-titles run.
Cleveland Indians versus Florida Marlins (1997)
The Indians regroup a couple years later picking up Matt Williams, having a healthy Sandy Alomar raking at catcher, adding Julio Franco for the bench, and even having traded for the 1995 World Series star David Justice. The New York Yankees won the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000. But, in 1997, the Cleveland Indians told them to go home and watch them win it all as a mediocre Florida Marlins team that had traded for more payroll than they could afford was the best the weaker National League could offer in terms of competition. Except, in the deciding Game 7, Craig Counsell2 knocks in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, then scores the winning run in the bottom of the 11th with two outs. Because, of course he did.
Cleveland Indians versus Boston Red Sox (2007)
This 96-win team had some ridiculous talent at the top of their stack. CC Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, and Victor Martinez were legit. Heck, future AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee couldn’t even make the postseason roster.3 And, the team added 90s star Kenny Lofton as a good luck charm. The fates even seemed to be on their side as a swarm of midges descended onto the ballpark during the series with the Yankees, helping the team dispatch them before the Indians took a 3-1 series lead over the Boston Red Sox. But, a Joel Skinner stop sign on Lofton and a PED-report on Paul Byrd coming out the morning of Game 7 ended the positive momentum as the Indians fell before even getting a shot at the underwhelming Colorado Rockies (who the Red Sox swept).
So, why put our hopes in the Indians?
Because the Browns are a joke of a franchise who are pushing away the last vestiges of talent from a three-win team. Because the Cavs regular season is an insufferable follow of negative story lines backing up to a playoffs where the Spurs and Warriors are favored to destroy any chance of the chore paying off. Because the one freaking year Cleveland gets the Republican National Convention it is shaping up to be a complete cluster.
Because Cleveland never wins. You live long enough, never changing your loyalty, and still no title. Unless…when that special team comes around with a dominant pitching staff, ridiculous defense, and just enough hitting, you bet big on it. And then, you can celebrate a championship.4
To pull it off, the Indians cannot be careful, but they have to be precise. They have to be well-funded with extra cash or assets to supplement the team at the trade deadline (should the need arise). And, yeah, they gotta be nuts, too. And, they’re gonna need a crew as nuts as their fans. So, who do they have?
You sure you’re ready to do this? You’re ready.
OK, bad news first. The World Series is as tough to get to as the inside of a Las Vegas casino vault. First, we have to get to the MLB postseason – as a division winner or as a Wild Card team – which everyone knows takes more than a smile. Next, through two-to-three October playoff series, each of which requires a different set of traits – which we can’t fake – to defeat the best teams in baseball and many of these teams will be the most well-funded teams – which we won’t be. Furthermore, variance plays a huge factor in the playoffs and even being the best team might not help us.
Once we’ve gotten to the World Series, though, then it’s a walk in the park: just four more wins needed against what promises to be the best team in baseball with redilections toward winning the championship themselves, and the most elaborate twists of fate conceived by man because we are from Cleveland after all. Any questions?
Don’t use seven words when four will do. Don’t shift your weight, look always at your mark but don’t stare, be specific but not memorable, be funny but don’t make him laugh.
MLB Hitters: you can strike out looking and complain the umpire missed the call or you can strike out swinging for all the world to see. It’s your decision. Five starters from the Cleveland Indians are going to break the strikeout record in 2016 (as they did in 2015 and 2014) with or without your assistance. If you swing, then they will strike you out. If you don’t swing, then they will strike you out. If you foul a few off, then good for you, but you’re still striking out. Now, as soon as you reach the batter’s box, you might as well start making plans to go back to the bench. If anyone so much as glances a ball into fair territory, well, it doesn’t matter because the early 2015 Indians defensive shortcomings have been replaced with defensive stalwarts. Heck, even the bench has guys with enough defense to rob you of what you thought was a hit. Don’t worry, as soon as your at bat is over, you can go back to the bench and it’ll be several innings before you have to come back up again.
(sacrifice bunts) Wait, wait, wait. All I get to do is watch him?
One player on the Indians in particular is adept at defense, a young man with a wide smile, Francisco. An over-groomed hitter stands with his back cocked to the young man, focused on the baseball in the pitchers hand, and consequently he doesn’t realize that Francisco is slowly reading him to steal away a hit. The thievery is glacier-paced: Francisco, his face always forward and inscrutable, gingerly raises his glove and then, with incomparable dexterity, prepares his throwing hand. From the stands, nothing appears amiss, and no fan looks the wiser. His spoils (a line drive) now in sight, but he waits for just the right moment, and then, when the ball hits the curve of the bat…he reacts quickly, his left hand finding the ball resting within his glove as his right relieves the glove of the ball before flicking it to first base for the out.
‘Radiant’ is the word. Absolutely radiant.
October. Go. Now. Before…
See, the kind of players that have the postseason stolen from them, they have huge free agent deals to compensate them. They get made whole again. I’m not leaving Cleveland without postseason wins, but how do I get my five years back? I can’t, so I’m going to take this year. There’s always someone watching, but there will be a heck of a lot more people watching this season when we win the AL Central Division and rampage through playoffs!
Don’t think I don’t see what you’re doing.
I know more about hitting present-day pitchers than any man alive, I invented it, and they cannot be beaten. They got cameras, they got weighted balls, they got clocks, they got timers, they got long toss, they got enough coaches to occupy Paris! OK, bad example.
I beg your pardon, sir. You must have me confused with someone else. My name is Ramon. See? (turning to show name embroidered on the back of his jersey)5
(As he pitches) Do you moisturize? I swear by it. I try all sorts of lotions. I went through a fragrance-free period last year, but now I’m liking this new brand fortified with rose hip. My sister, you know, she uses the aloe vera with the sun screen built in…(95mph strike looking)
You know: they say cinnamon is wonderful for your pores. Read that on the internet. And that ideally you should be wearing gloves to bed, but I find that would interfere with my social agenda…(88 mph strike swinging)
Problem is: I get a reaction to camphor so I can’t use traditional remedies…(97 mph strike followed a half second later by a swing)
That was lovely.
You want broke, blind, or bedlam?
A walk is the equivalent of a cardiac arrest for most fans. Or better yet: A walk is a way to score runs…but without a bomb. See, when a home run is crushed over the outfield wall, it unleashes series of events that pushes runners forward, scoring runs, and limiting outs. Now that tends not to matter, in most cases, because the home run cleared the bases anyway. But see, a walk creates similar machinations, but without the immediate gratification of a bunch of runs scored. So instead of Bautista, you’d be getting more Ichiro.
You gonna treat me like a grownup at least?
Chris Antonetti leans in and whispers in Napoli’s ear. Napoli’s eyes widen, then glaze over as all around him people are standing and shouting. Antonetti places an envelope in Napoli’s lap, then gets up and walks out as, in free agency, players such as David Freese and Austin Jackson look to have to wait for a contract…for several months. Napoli considers his options. In one hand: the prospect of a big market team biting on his hot streak to finish the 2015 season and maybe throwing him into the DH role. In the other (courtesy of Antonetti): a ticket to Goodyear Arizona to be the Indians starting first baseman.
I’m gonna get out of the car and drop you like third period French.
Both players peer down from behind home plate to second base 127 feet away and five baseballs sitting next to each of them. This is a contest. The players stare each other down. Yan (the starter and Silver Slugger winner) and Roberto (the backup who is too good to ignore) are two components to a dominant catching situation for the Indians. Both hit well enough, both are excellent pitch framers, and both can gun out runners. They’re nice boys. Really. Peckerwoods, sure to runners trying to gain an extra base, but nice. Flag is dropped and each take turns drilling the glove of Lindor at second base, which never budges an inch.
“Don’t. Don’t. Don’t touch it. Do you see me grabbing your bat and mimicking your batting stance?”
On a high definition screen two hitters meet in a ballpark and peer over their shoulders to make certain no one is watching them. Little do they know Trevor Bauer, GoPro junkie, and victim of a continual flop sweat, crouches before their image, masterfully controlling his drone with a joystick in his left hand. He is flanked by front office men.
What took you guys so long?
So, he can walk on a rope of allowing baserunners but still getting the save. Well, more than that. He can juggle his ERA jumping up almost a run (2.07 in 2014 to 2.99 in 2015), while his FIP went down over a run (2.99 to 1.82) and still manage to save 34 games in 38 chances. He led all relief pitchers in 2015 in FIP and WAR (2.6), while also finishing third in HR/9 (0.26) and 11th in K-BB%.
Who else is on the list? He is the list. He’s our closer.