C-Cap Recap – Game 4: Math, Magic & Irrational Panic

Josh Donaldson ALCS

On paper, the Cleveland Indians still hold a commanding 3-1 series lead and home-field advantage in the ALCS after a fairly undramatic 5-1 loss in Toronto on Tuesday. As we all know deep down, however, the Tribe’s failure to run the table and cakewalk to a pennant has resulted in consequences of likely biblical proportions—more bleeding pinkies, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

After a summer spent gleefully mocking the fragility of a 3-1 lead in a postseason series, Cleveland fans must now coolly and confidently trust the mathematical odds that such a situation is—in fact—still advantageous to the team in the catbird seat. This also requires erasing memories of the Indians’ last trip to the ALCS in 2007, when 3-1 was a similarly doomed set of digits against Tito Francona’s Red Sox.

Maybe we could take solace in the wisdom of the great mathematician Stephen Hawking, who taught us that the past itself is merely a probability, and that the 2007 Indians both lost AND won the pennant, just as this year’s club will undoubtedly become champions in at least a handful of universes, no matter what we actually observe this week. But then again, Stephen Hawking is also going around telling people he drives a Jaguar these days, so his word has become a bit dubious.

Q: What’s Worse Than TBS’s Baseball Coverage?

Answer: The ads in-between TBS’s baseball coverage. With the aforementioned, awkward-as-hell Jaguar commercial as exhibit A, the ALCS has seemingly managed to rope in a whopping four sponsors in total, thus creating repeat airings of the same annoying ads during every half inning break, pitching change, and bleeding pinky delay. This means having to watch Matthew McConaughey jab a contact lens into his eyeball about 18 times; Jamie Foxx shill for Verizon 21 times; and the Geico Gekko hop between Virginia and Tennessee 23 times. Then there’s Google keeping alive 2012’s obnoxious a-cappella fad and—worst of them all—the condescending Chevy spokesman and his panel of “real people” happily visiting him at the Chevy lab like it’s the Wonka factory. In the soft-spoken voice of a serial killer, Chevy Man implores his guests (again, NOT actors!) to describe how awesome Chevy is. Backed into a corner, they blurt out, “Amazing… fantastic! Chevy is beyond words! [and right after the camera turns off]. . . Don’t kill me!”

You may argue that none of these ads can match the annoyance and incompetence of Cal Ripken and Ron Darling’s clueless, shockingly unprepared “insights” about two teams they have had months to research. But before Cal made his living as a third baseline Uncle Fester, he was my childhood hero, and star of such silly 1990s baseball cards as this one:

Cal Ripken

He gets a pass.

A Quick Argument Between Your Cautiously Optimistic and Irrationally Pessimistic Selves

Optimistic: Well, that game was to be expected. Toronto didn’t get here by accident, and they play well at home. No biggie. Tip your cap and move on.
Pessimistic: Sure, but we’re also going to lose the series now.
O: Ugh, shut up. So ridiculous.
P: Yeah, fine. Ignore me. Talk yourself out of it. But you see the writing on the wall.
O: Yes, I do see it. It says 3-1 Indians with two of the next three games in Cleveland.
P: Right. And those games will be started by whom? A guy with one career MLB start, a human home run platter, and a Klubot on fumes.
O: You’re such a f%$*ing bummer, man. Can’t you just let things play out before going all doom and gloom.
P: Hey man, you started it. You said “no biggie” as a way of goading me into speaking truths at you! And now you’re too weak to hear it.
O: Only one team has EVER come back from a 3-0 deficit in the history of all things. You are talking about a total fluke.
P: Not so fluky that our own manager hasn’t seen it happen with his own eyes. And I guarantee the Yankees were sending out better pitching than Ryan Merritt to close that series.
O: Merritt looked very good this year. 1.64 ERA.
P: In 11 innings. ELEVEN INNINGS!
O: Hey, silver lining of today; Miller and Allen got their rest. So if Merritt can just go 4 or 5 and keep us in it—
P: I think Merritt should spend tonight repairing some drones.
O: Oh now you’re gonna go there, huh?
P: You know it! All the way back to Goodyear, everybody was cracking jokes about Trevor Bauer and his funny little drone obsession. Well is it funny now that it’s cost us a world championship?!
O: Dude, seriously. What is wrong with you?
P: He’s out there bleeding like Ric Flair in a cage match, and then he’s going around taunting people like a dick.
O: He has personality. He’s actually an interesting person. Why don’t you go after Edwin Encarnacion for taunting the entire Indians bench after his dumb single today?
P: Edwin Encarnacion is going to homer in every single remaining at-bat of this series.

The Offensive Woes

One thing your pessimistic self likely could win some points on is the struggles of the Indians offense—a problem which has been largely masked by the team’s incredible pitching this postseason. Against a pretty nasty Aaron Sanchez and the Jays underappreciated pen, the Tribe managed just two hits on Tuesday, both from the bottom of the order (doubles by Tyler Naquin and Roberto Perez).

Carlos Santana, who ended the regular season on fire, is hitting .160 in the postseason. After a good series against Boston, both Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez have just one hit in the ALCS. On the bright side, all three guys are making pretty solid contact (both Kipnis and Santana have delivered key homers), but at some point—be it in this series or on into the World Series—the Indians are going to need a bit of an offensive breakout to take some of the extreme stress off their weary, under-manned pitching staff.

Marco Estrada, much like Josh Tomlin, can become a bit easier to square up when you’ve seen him a few times, so perhaps another go around against the Game 1 starter will be a welcome sight.

On the Subject of “Magic”

While Tom Hamilton has long employed the word “magic” to describe some of the great accomplishments of Indians teams over the past 20 years, it’s a loaded word that actually does the team a disservice after a game like Tuesday’s loss. If magic was really the key to Cleveland’s success, then losing a Kluber-pitched clincher game would seem to suggest that the magic has run out. This kind of thinking is where your dumb pessimistic self gets all of his or her ideas. On the flip side, if you view the 2016 Cleveland Indians as a really talented baseball team that has won games by outplaying their opponents, you no longer have to carry around this magic baggage into every big game. You can simply lose a game because Aaron Sanchez was tough and Josh Donaldson is a former league MVP.

If the Indians come back and win the series Wednesday with Ryan Merritt on the hill, it won’t be because the magic miraculously returned after a brief day off; it’ll be because somebody—maybe Merritt himself—comes through in a big way. Remember, in order for Golden State to blow a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers had to actually take it from them. Screw magic. Go play better.

PS: The surprising revenge of pesky Ezequiel Carrera against his old team the Indians would make for an amusing sub-plot if any member of the TBS crew were aware that he used to play for Cleveland. Ten bucks says not a one of them has a clue.

PPS: Kevin Pillar looks like a 16th century Venetian nobleman from a very boring painting.

PPS: The Indians still have two fewer losses in October than the Browns.