Before Postseason Begins, Remember Not to Forget Indians Incredible Regular Season
BY JUSTIN LADA
11 months ago feels like a lifetime ago. 11 months ago, I remember going out of my way to avoid social media not to see any of the Chicago Cubs parade. I resigned myself to a loss in Game 6 after Addison Russell's grand slam. Not that I didn't believe in Game 7, but until Rajai Davis' home run, I tried to not get too overanxious one way or the other.
It's amazing that all that happened 11 months ago. Now in four days, tense, heart-in-your-throat, nerve wracking baseball starts again. Coming up short with a 3-1 lead was just a cruel reminder that nothing in baseball is ever a given and that things in the postseason that are going well one inning can completely vanish the next. It might have been cruel, but it might have been a good reminder for fans to not take things going well for granted and for the Indians, it might have been a good lesson as well, even if it took a little longer for it to pay off in 2017:
Baseball's regular season is every bit of the long haul that the cliche makes it out to be. And the postseason is short, random and cruel. They aren't the same game and while all 162 games matter, you can't agonize too much over and error on a Thursday afternoon getaway day game in June. In the postseason that same error could cause agony every second of the inning and possibly the rest of it.
The point is, it's important not to take the good moments in baseball for granted. For the short lesson - look at the Detroit Tigers. They just experienced their 2002 season that the Indians had. A team with an over-bloated payroll of aging stars that never won the ultimate prize and now are forced with a long rebuild. And the Indians have been on the beneficial side of that in 2016 and 2017.
The long lesson - as fun as 2016 was with the 14 game winning streak, Party at Napoli's, the emergence of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez as stars, 2017 was even better. And before we get caught up in these short, breath-taking games, the regular season shouldn't be forgotten.
Opening Series: After a crushing defeat in the World Series, the regular season couldn't come soon enough to try again. Edwin Encarnacion hit a game tying homer in the 8th inning in Texas on the opening night of the season. Lindor hit two homers, including a go-ahead grand slam in that series. Those first few games felt tense, important and fun from the get-go. It was a great lift to start the year even if the first half was hard to swallow.
Welcome back, Dr: The home opener was frustrating. It was warm, then it got cold and so did the Indians bats. But how amazing was it that Michael Brantley, who had to miss out on all of the fun on the field in 2016, got to deliever the game winning hit on opening day.
Kluber's return: Despite being good, Corey Kluber didn't look like Corey Kluber most of the April and May. His DL stint for a bad back proved it. So when he came back, there was every reason to be nervous given his heavy workload at the end of the 2016 season. Instead he came back, looked better than his 2014 Cy Young winning self against Oakland and somehow carried that dominance the rest of the season. Unfathomable.
Comeback vs. Texas: It didn't get the Indians on track that moment, but their 7-1 comeback to win 15-9 was something to behold because they erased one of Carlos Carrasco's few rough starts in a stellar 2017 campaign.
Austin Jackson's into the bullpen catch: Raise your hand if you thought back in March that Austin Jackson would be on this club on August 2? I'm not sure I did. My general belief was that if he finished spring training fully healthy, he'd make the initial roster, platoon in center field with Tyler Naquin and they'd see what he could do. Jackson's hitting has been a revelation in a quasi-reserve, sometimes forced into being full time role. Then he made the catch of the year going into the Boston bullpen via a front flip robbing Hanley Ramirez of a home run. The Indians lost the game, but what do you remember more? The outcome or that catch?
22: What else needs to be said about this number? Remember the endless comments about "If you take out the Indians 14 game winning streak" last year, trying to discount their success and only giving them credit for one fluky stretch? Some people said "well, they won't do that again this year." They were right - the Indians didn't win 14 in a row again. They won 22 in a row.
22 in a row wouldn't have been possible had the Indians entire organizational depth and successes not been on display. It involved defensive reserve Giovanny Urshela, who was essentially passed up in spring training by hot hitting, power lifter Yandy Diaz. Diaz played a big role in the winning streak too, but Urshela played in all but one of the wins. It involved Greg Allen some before Bradley Zimmer's season ending hand injury and then even more after his injury. It involved several bullpen pieces not named Andrew Miller, since he was on the DL twice around that time for a knee injury. Ryan Merritt started and won two games during it, Tyler Olson, who everyone thought would play a big role this year, pitched during it. It involved Jay Bruce, who the Indians picked up in wake of Lonnie Chisenhall's and Brantley's injuries, with the Dolan's agreeing to adding to their already franchise high payroll after the Yankees wouldn't take on the remainder of his contract. Just an amazing force of things came together.
Best record, best pitching staff and 102 wins: Think there would be an emotional letdown after the winning streak ended and the same after they won the division? They went 10-3 after the winning streak was broken including a 9-3 record once the division was in hand. Incredible focus down the stretch to overtake and continue to fend off Houston for the top AL record. Their pitching staff broke the record for most strikeouts in baseball's history, led baseball in fWAR and were the first team in history to average 10 strikeouts as a staff per game.
The point of his long rambling exercise to remind anyone who read this (myself included) that a 162 game season of baseball matters, no matter how the final three, eleven, or 19 postseason games turn out. Is it World Series or bust? Maybe. That's the ultimate goal of a team this good, but that doesn't take away what all the hard work turned into over the last six months. So while you're standing with sweaty palms and wringing your hands over the next week or month, remember that over 162 games, this team did things that didn't even happen in the incredible 90's run. It was an incredible season that hopefully has even more to offer.
POSTED 10/03/2017 00:28