Having been on the wrong side of a one-game playoff or wildcard scenario, I can feel for those who oppose a 162-game season being synthesized into the randomness of nine innings. Having seen how a nine-inning contest can not-so-quickly get stretched into a 13-game nail biter where every pitch is more important than the last, where heroes are made, and obnoxious fans who infiltrated Cleveland just two years earlier are sent home to watch the rest of the postseason from their couches, that feeling quickly dissipates.
The Chicago Cubs won 95 games this season and will spend October 3 cleaning out the clubhouse. The Colorado Rockies — a team casual fans would have never guessed to be in the postseason picture — won four fewer, but won the one that mattered most.
No sport has as big of a chasm between the day-to-day grind of the regular season where one game or bad stretch of play doesn’t quite matter in the grand scheme of the entire landscape to the postseason where every decision is magnified. The starting rotation is a headline. The active roster is dissected. Every time the pitcher shakes off the catcher’s request, was it the right move? And once the ball is in play, every close call excruciating.
Lore is penned in the postseason. Think Kyrie Irving. Think Earnest Byner. Think Craig Ehlo. Think Jason Giambi, who, while not producing his moment in the playoffs, propelled the Indians into contention. There’s a reason why Giambi’s home run against the Chicago White Sox is still shared so many years later. A player in the twilight of his career, brought to Cleveland as a player-coach, just needed one swing. Kyrie needed one shot. So did MJ. Earnest, unfortunately, needed two more yards. We like players in the regular season, but the entire city loves them once the postseason arrives. We rally around them, treat them as ours, collectively celebrating the crucial outs while collectively agonizing in dropped fly balls.
The ’90s era was littered with players who we didn’t just cheer for; we felt we knew them. In the event you’re still not on board with this group of Cleveland Indians, I urge you to read Zack Meisel’s story on the development of both the front office and roster as it expertly sets the tone for the coming weeks.
This passage, in particular, is worth sharing:
The Indians have amassed more victories since 2013 than any other AL club. This will be their fourth foray into the playoffs in that span (sorry, Kenny Lofton). But they’re also staring at the sport’s longest title drought, which stands at 70 years.
When operating with limited financial resources, unearthing other competitive advantages is essential…
Patience is often the key to the exercise, as evidenced by the paths that Carlos Carrasco, José Ramírez, Trevor Bauer and others traveled to reach stardom.
Before the Indians acquired Mike Clevinger, he was contemplating other career choices in wildlife control or biology. Indians scouts identified some attributes they liked, and when they completed the trade with the Angels for Vinnie Pestano, they overhauled Clevinger’s pitching delivery. A few years later, he bloomed into a 200-inning, 200-strikeout hurler.
The Indians converted Corey Kluber from a non-top-30 Padres prospect into a two-time Cy Young winner, thanks to pitch refinement, instruction and plenty of diligence from the right-hander.
As sneaky good as that Colorado Rockies lineup is, it has two offensive players worth more than five wins on the season.1 The Indians have two worth more than seven. The Rockies have two pitchers worth more than four wins this season. The Indians have four.
When you factor in the personalities and camaraderie and add in that Mike Clevinger was pondering a career in biology only to decide that he’d turn his focus in to fanning 200-plus fools at the MLB level, I don’t know how any fan can’t become completely immersed in this team over the next few weeks, watching them as they endeavor to redeem themselves for last season’s early exit.
The stories are endless. While the Tribe was able to stave off a one-game wild card situation, their foe in the first round just so happens to be the defending World Series champions. The Indians’ run differential outside of the AL Central will be a narrative only they can disrupt. Can the shaky bullpen of the regular season string together a few solid weeks of play? Will the Josh Donaldson-Jason Kipnis dichotomy pay dividends? Who will be this year’s Ryan Merritt, the player to come out of nowhere to give this team a boost? And how will the health of Trevor Bauer and Yan Gomes play a role?
All of these questions will be answered, pitch by pitch, out by out, inning by inning, and game by game starting this Friday. Heroes will be made. The only hope is that the ones who will be remembered forever are wearing “Cleveland” on the front of their uniforms.
- According to FanGraphs. [↩]