We at Waiting for Next Year consider ourselves experts when it comes to sports waits, droughts, dry spells, and misery. While the city of Cleveland finally broke The Big Wait in 2016, the beginning of the 2018 Cleveland Indians season calls the club’s respective droughts to mind. While the World Series one certainly sticks out there are plenty of other storylines worth watching as the regular season begins.
Last Central Division Championship: 2017 (1 season)
This one hardly qualifies as a wait. The Tribe has won consecutive Central Division titles for the first time since 1998-99. The 2017 Indians won 102 games, including 22 in a row, on their way to the division crown. Most national and local media outlets expect the Indians to claim the division again. The Twins showed promise last season, but do not appear ready to make the leap. The Royals appear to be on their way to a rebuild while the White Sox and Tigers will be scrapping to stay out of the cellar. Another division crown is by no means guaranteed, but Terry Francona’s club has every reason to feel confident as April begins.
Last Cy Young winner: 2017 (1 season) – Corey Kluber
Again, this is not much of a drought but more an opportunity to reflect on Corey Kluber’s pitching excellence last season. The 31-year-old ace continued his string of American League dominance. Kluber led the league with a 2.25 ERA while compiling an 18-4 record in 29 starts. The big righty pitched five complete games and 203.2 total innings. He struck out 265 batters while walking only 36 (a 7.36 strikeout to walk ratio). In short, he showed a mastery of the hill that few others could boast in 2017. With two Cy Young awards in four seasons, Kluber has repeatedly shown that the awards do not soften his edge.
Last American League Pennant: 2016 (2 seasons)
At long last Clevelanders can watch HD highlights of the Indians in the Fall Classic. The 2016 Tribe made quick work of the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays to capture the club’s sixth AL crown. They fell to the Chicago Cubs in seven games. With many of those same faces still on the payroll hope remains high that a return to baseball’s biggest stage is only six months away.
Last AL Rookie of the Year: 1990 (28 seasons) – Sandy Alomar Jr.
A full 28 years have passed since an Indians player received the AL Rookie of the Year Award. This stat is especially eyebrow-raising if you consider Kenny Lofton’s case in 1992 and Francisco Lindor’s case in 2015. Still, Alomar more than earned his accolades in 1990. Over 132 games the catcher slashed .290/.326/.418 with 9 dingers and 66 RBI. In addition, he earned a 2.4 WAR, Golden Glove, and an All-Star Game appearance. This year’s Tribe boasts plenty of veteran talent, but rookies Francisco Mejia or Greg Allen could have opportunities to make an impact and figure to be the club’s best hope for the next Rookie of the Year.
Last Perfect Game: 1981 (37 seasons) – Len Barker
Of all the Indians stats and droughts on this list, this one is the most intriguing. On May 15, 1981 journeyman pitcher Len Barker (74 career wins) dominated the Toronto Blue Jays, striking out eleven, on his way to a 3-0 victory. Since then Cleveland has played a Major League-leading 5,842 games without a no-hitter, the longest active streak in Major League Baseball. Winning a World Series takes hundreds of hours of work from a team as well as more than a little luck. Throwing a perfect game takes only an evening…and a little luck. It goes without saying that a perfect game, or no-hitter for that matter, is incredibly difficult to do, but the Tribe could have one next week. With a pitching staff that once again figures to be among the best in baseball, there are a bevy of hurlers that could hold an opponent hitless in any given game.
Last Batting Champion: 1954 (64 seasons) – Bobby Avila
Bobby Avila played ten years in Cleveland, but 1954 was without question his finest season. The second baseman clubbed 15 homers and 67 RBI while slashing .341/.402/.477. His .341 batting average led the American League, and he finished a full .021 above Chicago’s Minnie Minoso. Indians do-everything infielder Jose Ramirez is the likeliest player to take a run at the batting crown. Ramirez knocked .312 and .318 in the past two seasons
Last AL MVP: 1953 (65 seasons) – Al Rosen
Younger fans may not recall, but Al Rosen’s 1953 campaign was legendary. Rosen led the league in runs scored (115), homers (43), RBI (145), and OPS (1.034). He also hit .336/.422/.613 while appearing in 155 games and being named to his second All-Star Game. The ’53 Indians won 92 games but finished seven games behind the Yankees in the American League. This season’s Indians club offers a few potential candidates who could be in the MVP conversation. Jose Ramirez finished third in 2017 MVP voting. Francisco Lindor ranked fifth and ace Corey Kluber came in seventh. Michael Brantley finished third in the 2014 MVP voting but he would have to overcome some serious injury doubts to capture that award this season.
Last World Series Championship – 1948 (70 seasons)
This is the big one. Cleveland boasts two World Series championships. The Tribe defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1920 for their first world championship. Twenty-eight years passed without a playoff appearance. The Indians made good use of their chance in 1948, winning a tiebreaker game against the Boston Red Sox then turning around and defeating the Boston Braves four games to two. No doubt you know the myriad chances the club has had since.
1954: Swept by Willy Mayes and the New York Giants
1995: Broke a 41-year playoff drought and lost to the Atlanta Braves in six games.
1997: Jose Mesa. Next.
2016: Dropped a 3-1 series lead and landed on the wrong side of history.
Could this year be Next Year? Don’t rule it out. Cleveland’s pitching staff remains among the league’s best, the AL Central offers relatively minimal competition, and anything can happen in the playoffs.
It’ll be interesting to track each of these droughts as the season progresses. Multiple threads give even casual fans something to monitor, and lucky for the Tribe faithful we are still in the spring when hope runs rampant and anything can happen. Let’s play ball.