The Cleveland Indians and Their Shocking Road To The World Series
"Even Hollywood wouldn't buy this story folks, they'd tell you it was just too unbelievable" - Radio voice of the Indians, Tom Hamilton
After game two of the American League Championship series, Jose Bautista complained about the quote "Circumstances" that were piled against his team, the Toronto Blue Jays; what Bautista may not have considered, where the "circumstances" that the Cleveland Indians have miraculously overcome. Going into the 2016 season, Cleveland was viewed as a potential playoff team that in the end would more than likely be edged out and miss playing in October. After it was announced that All-star outfielder Michael Brantley would miss significant time with a shoulder injury, all eyes were on the extremely young and extremely talented Cleveland pitching staff. How did the young staff respond? Carlos Carrasco suffered two huge injuries limiting him to 25 starts. All-star Danny Salazar started off the season as one of the best in the league, leading many to believe he was a serious Cy Young candidate; however, a forearm injury led to a terrible second half fallout, and also limiting him to 25 starts. With these three injuries alone, nobody would have believed Cleveland would win the AL Central, let alone the American League Pennant - except the Indians.
The Small Moves That Paid Dividends
In 2015, the Cleveland Indians scored just 669 runs (18th), which is more than likely not going to get you into the postseason. In 2016, the Tribe scored 777 (5th), which helped them win the AL Central crown, and was the most obvious difference from the year before. How did Cleveland do it without Michael Brantley, one of the premier offensive players in baseball? If you were to take a look at the 2015-2016 free agent class without knowing where each player went, you might guess that Cleveland had splurged on somebody like Justin Upton or Chris Davis. How did they really do it? By signing two veteran players to one year contracts totaling to just under $13 million, which is $10 million less than the Detroit Tigers paid Justin Upton in 2016 alone. Many thought that Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis were well beyond their prime and would not pay off in the least. Mike Napoli responded with a career year, becoming a fan favorite, and accounting for 193 of the Indians runs (101 RBI/92 Runs scored). Rajai Davis became the oldest player to lead the American League in stolen bases since the great Rickey Henderson did it in 1998.
The Odds Cleveland Overcame
As if they were not already enough to cripple a team, the injuries previously mentioned were not the only ones that Cleveland fought through to get to this point. Former Silver Slugger award winning catcher Yan Gomes, who Cleveland hoped to get a good chunk of their offense from, had an utterly horrendous start to the season which essentially ended in mid July when he suffered a separated right shoulder. Gomes honorably fought his way back in incredible time, only to be hit by a pitch in a rehab game and be setback just three days before his scheduled return. Back-up catcher Roberto Perez was out with a thumb injury until July 18th, which was coincidentally the same day Gomes was placed on the disabled list. Outfielders Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd both were suspended for a good portion of the season for PED use, which thinned the Cleveland outfield even more than it already was. Yet the Indians won 94 games.
The Unsung Heroes Of A Postseason Push
Every team has some unheralded players, but Cleveland seemed to have more than any team in baseball. Relievers Jeff Manship and Zach McAllister both had very solid years, while Dan Otero flat out dominated with a 1.53 ERA in 62 appearances. Otero was acquired last December for cash, a move that was thought to be of no impact, yet all through the regular season and postseason Otero has been the unsung hero of a lights out Cleveland bullpen. Platoon outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall quietly enjoyed a very nice season, behind the likes of exciting headline grabbing rookie Tyler Naquin. While catcher Roberto Perez had far from gaudy offensive numbers, he had several big moments with his bat, and his ability behind the plate was proven over and over.
Veterans That Made The Difference
Michael Brantley may not have been on the field, but he helped his team as much as anybody this season. Brantley is the kind of guy who likes to stay behind the scenes, and that's exactly what he did as he helped guide the younger players on the team all year long. There were several times this year where a player came through in a big pinch-hit opportunity and in his postgame comments would say "Brantley told me to stay ready and get some cuts in the batting cages throughout the game". Brantley was often seen in the dugout, and later in the season out in the bullpen, always willing to lend some veteran advice. When Cleveland clinched the division he was in the party in typical Brantley style - standing in the back of the room looking on with the "Dr Smooth" smile. The leadership role that Mike Napoli took was obvious all year long on and off the field, and that is one of the biggest reasons he was brought in. While third baseman Juan Uribe did not have the season he was hoping to in Cleveland, he took young Jose Ramirez under his wing in the brief time he was here, and we all know how that turned out. Last but not least is the cool and calm manager Terry Francona. Francona not only is the obvious choice for Manager of the Year after what he has done with a very banged up team, he has solidified his already huge case for the Hall of Fame.
The Mid-Season Moves, Both Big And Small
The Indians have been known to sit on their hands a bit at the trade deadline, but this year that was not the case. The very active Indians acquired Andrew Miller, Brandon Guyer, Coco Crisp, and came very close to nabbing Jonathan Lucroy as well. Miller was named the ALCS MVP, Guyer hit .333 after the trade, and Crisp has hit homeruns in both the ALDS clincher and the ALCS clincher. While it was not easy at all for Cleveland to part with some of the pieces that they did, every since move has paid off in the playoffs.
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The Cleveland Indians are not done yet, as Terry Francona takes his 8-0 World Series record into the biggest stage in all of baseball. The Indians await the winner of the NLCS, and neither team will be easy to beat, especially given the extra rest the Indians have given themselves with a 7-1 posteason record so far. The Indians have not won the Fall Classic since 1948 when they beat the Boston Braves in six games, but they now have a chance to bring the second major sports championship to Cleveland in the same year. There is undeniably something special to this team and it's foundation is resiliency. The city of Cleveland anxiously awaits the result of this magical season's end.