Last year, Cincinnati sports fans were given the rare torture that can only concoct itself when tornado-like conditions arrise; a cold gust of failure, combined with a warm front from essentially every rival. In Cincinnati, we tend to hate when those teams from the north-portion of the state, which leaves Columbus with the task of, “hey guys, you’re equidistant from us, we’ve got the college thing, can’t we just get along?”
The Indians last made the playoffs in 2013 and last won the AL Central in 2007; no one thought the Indians stood a chance in the division with the defending World Series Champion Kansas City Royals… but they did.
Essentially, the Indians found a rare formula.
This formula allowed their window for a run to the World Series, where if they were playing any team who had a trophy in their cabinet from less than 108 years ago, they probably would’ve closed when they held a 3-1 lead over the Chicago Cubs… ratings reflect Game 7 of the series as the 6th most-viewed television event of 2016 (40.5 million people watched that game).
Getting to the World Series is hard. Two in a row? Hard.
While their AL Central-mates, the Kansas City Royals were able to find success in the postseason in two consecutive seasons (losing to the San Francisco Giants in 2014, then winning the thing over the New York Mets in 2015). Prior to the Kansas City Royals 2015 run, the last team to lose a World Series, then win the following season were the 1989 Oakland Athletics.
By the way, getting to the World Series is part of a formula that is tough to repeat, as records show that getting back into the October tournament is hard enough; many teams who make the World Series will not return to the playoffs the following season.
Cleveland was also given a rare spell of health from their pitching, which was so tremendous to the cause. Additionally, they pitched out-of-their-minds in 2016, as the rotation AND bullpen featured many arms during career years.
First of all, I spent 45 minutes making that chart, so I give a tip-of-the-cap to myself.
What this chart shows is that in essentially every area represented on the chart, Cleveland Indians pitchers had a career high in that region, the one exception being Danny Salazar, who actually fared a tad worse in 2016 than he has for a majority of his career.
In addition, the Indians’ bullpen isn’t maintainable; they’re what I’m comfortable calling a one-year wonder.
Cleveland had the rare luxury of a lockdown bullpen in 2016, as they finished 4th in the majors with a collective ERA of 3.44, but a little known factoid is that they also finished 4th in the same category at the end of 2015.
This could be taken one of two ways:
- Terry Francona’s Cleveland Indians are simply a great late-innings team. They proved it in the postseason and have proven it time after time during Francona’s tenure.
- They simply had a great crop, but now they’re another year of film and arm-exhaustion older.
I’m a personal believer that at some point, your bullpen is only as good as a hand of cards; you have to reshuffle in order to keep people guessing. Eventually, if you play clubs like Kansas City, Detroit, etc., enough times, they’re going to beat your brains in when you throw out your set-up guy for the millionth time.
One thing that might be able to push the Indians over the hump, putting them back into contention in 2017 will be their 3 year, $60 million designated hitter aquisation, the 34-year-old Edwin Encarnacion.
Encarnacion will be entering his 13th season in the majors, but his peak has come over the last five seasons.
Prior to 2012, Encarnacion had never hit more than 26 home runs and/or 80 RBIs in a season. Since then, the right-handed slugger has seasons of 42/110 (2012), 36/104 (2013), 34/98 (2014), 39/111 (2015), and 42/127 (2016).
Those numbers are in-part due to a lack on innings in the field, as well as playing in a dome; Cleveland will allow for half of those luxuries, the whole lack-of-playing-the-field concept.
What fans tend to forget with a team’s success, especially in the Indians’ condition (that formula that has created an influx of new talent) is their market size. It is hard to compete economically with the Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, etc.
The Indians currently sit at $117,816,665 in total payroll, which is 17th in baseball; they’re young guys are quickly getting closer to free agency, where they will fetch a huge paycheck.
This Edwin Encarnacion will come back to bite them in the tail.
Benefiting those 2016 Indians was the youth-in-revolt feeling among the starting line-up, which will be hard to retain now that they’ve “been there”, as their 2016 roster will return, outside of Rajai Davis. Encaranacion is going to kill that team’s spending room.
In all fairness, the Indians are in a crummy division; the only other team that could really stand a chance to take a punch are the Kansas City Royals, who have actually entered a minor rebuild, moving star reliever Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs in the offseason.
Indians fans, I just don’t want you to get your hopes up, because in Ohio sports, those hopes will put you right in the lower portion of the league standings.