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.