It's hard to predict the 2016 Indians or post season
BY JUSTIN LADA
“Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.” - Leo Durocher.
The great Dodgers manager wasn’t talking about the playoffs here, but it seems to fit right now.
The Cleveland Indians haven’t made the playoffs since 2013. Or 2007, if you’re Kenny Lofton. So it’s been quite a while since I had the chance to write something regarding an Indians division title or playoff appearance. They clinched their berth over a week ago and I haven’t been sure what to write. Maybe because the division title didn’t feel real because since spring training it felt like everyone had reason to write them off from having this chance. They wouldn’t score enough, they were a .500 team with a 14 game winning streak or they couldn’t overcome all their injuries. The season started with injuries but it continued into the playoffs and with home field advantage against the Boston Red Sox to booth (thanks Toronto). But it felt like all year they had to prove they belonged.
They’re going to have to keep proving people wrong. I could write all the matchups and problems the Indians have to overcome against Boston, but you already know them. They don’t have Michael Brantley, they won’t have Carlos Carrasco, they might have some version of Yan Gomes, Corey Kluber might not be 100% and they might have a version of Danny Salazar. Coming into 2016, those were arguably five of the Indians top 10 players. To not have two, possibly four in the playoffs seems tough. But just getting there seemed like it would be too.
Yet on Thursday, they’ll be there at 8:08 p.m. with Trevor Bauer throwing the first pitch. Just like we all thought in April, right?
You could say very little what as expected for the Indians and their fans this year. Afterall, 2014 and 2015 seemed poised to be big years and were letdowns with injuries and bloated contracts dragging the club down. Despite all that went wrong in 2016, it all worked out somehow.
Normally this would be the time and space I’d make predictions for each series in the playoffs. But for once I’m not going to because for once I feel like I have no idea what will happen.
As good as I felt about the signings of Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, I had no clue Napoli would set a career high in homers and that Davis would lead the league in steals. I knew Jose Ramirez could start, but I didn’t know he’d arguably be their best or second best hitter this year. I had no idea the ultra-conservative front office would unload their prized outfield prospect for an ace reliever (and attempt to haul in an All-Star catcher after their catcher, who I thought would be an All-Star, had a lost season). I had no idea Michael Brantley would play 11 games and try to come back twice before being shut down. Even on the last day of the year, who thought Gomes would be back in the lineup after a second injury and then hit a difference making two-run homer to give the Indians home field in the ALDS.
I’m not avoiding predictions for fear of being wrong or jinxing it or something silly. I’m avoiding it because I have no idea how the postseason will play out. I could see Bauer rising to the occasion in Game 1 (and 4 on short rest) or I could see the Red Sox offense setting the dogs on the Indians. Kluber could be just fine and be Kluber or his injury could hamper him. The Indians offense might not score under pressure or they could show why they scored the second most runs in the league. The bullpen could finally be human (except Andrew Miller, we know he’s not).
What I do know is that the Indians were the second best team in the American League in 2016. Despite their injuries and doubters, their record tells us that for sure. The playoffs tell us which of the 10 teams has the best final month of the season. So the Indians will have to prove they belong there. And whether they sweep or get swept or any other result, they belong there. Despite everything that happened to them this year, the six months they played baseball proved they deserve a chance at being the best team for one month.
Winning championships is great. Hey, we actually know that now! (Thanks, Cavaliers) But the one thing I’ve maintained about my sports fandom as I get older is that the playoffs are the worst part of any sports season. Every game is agonizing. But 161 games were agonizing enough this year in Cleveland. Every game in 2016 mattered. Hopefully 11 to 19 more matter just as much. But even if it’s three or 19 games over the next month, the Indians season was a success. They did what everyone thought they’d do the last two years and did what nobody thought they’d do this year.
That’s why I’m not making a prediction. Because everything I thought about baseball this year was probably wrong, like many people. I’m also not making a prediction because the next week of baseball is going to be fun. That’s my official prediction - Jose Ramirez’s orange hair and flying helmet, Napoli’s monster homers, Lindor’s smooth glove and big smile, every pitch Miller threw, every Trevor Bauer tweet was fun this year. And it will be fun over the next week as well. Or not, because everyone who thinks they know baseball is probably wrong about it - especially the postseason.
POSTED 10/04/2016 00:00