"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, 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 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 year 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.
Once again, the incredible resilience of the Cleveland Indians shines through with a three game ALDS sweep of the juggernaut Boston Red Sox. Even before all the huge injuries to key players up and down the Indians roster, this is a series that nobody thought would go this way, and some thought Cleveland wouldn't even be in. The leadership of Terry Francona and the key deadline move to get reliever Andrew Miller guided Cleveland to the game three win, and ultimately the series. When it was announced in April that outfielder Michael Brantley would miss a good portion of the season, many thought the Indians were done; when Brantley went back on the DL in mid-may for the remainder of the season, it was again supposed to be the nail in the coffin. When struggling catcher Yan Gomes hit the disabled list on July 18th, people again waited for the Tribe to fall out of first. When Cleveland refused to relinquish their first place lead but Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco were both lost, the baseball world threw Cleveland's hopes at a deep postseason run in the garbage. When Cleveland clinched home field for the ALDS to face the baseball legend of our generation, David Ortiz, in his final postseason appearance, everybody prepared for a storybook ending in favor of the Boston star. What was Cleveland's response to all of this? Finishing the season with the AL's second best record to win the AL Central crown for the first time since 2007, and sweeping Boston to advance to the ALCS for the first time since 2007.
Cleveland outplayed Boston on every area of the field, but the credit goes to youngsters outplaying youngsters
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Factors that won the series for Cleveland
Cleveland's youth outplays Boston's - During his game three postgame interview, Indians outfielder Coco Crisp referred to his ballclub as "these kids", and he couldn't be more right. Cleveland has just twelve players on their roster with postseason experience, and when you cut out the guys who only had it for one game in the Indians 2013 Wild Card game, you're down to just eight. If you really wanna get nit-picky and cut it down to only players with significant postseason experience, bump out Michael Martinez and Chris Gimenez to drop the number to six. While Boston's roster carried 16 players with postseason experience, many of them saw little to no playing time, leaving the bulk of the weight on the youngsters. Many felt that the presence and leadership of David Ortiz, among others, would lead young players like Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley JR through the playoffs, but Cleveland wasn't buying it. Boston's keystone youngsters Betts, Bradley, and Bogaerts went a combined 5-32 (.156) with 12 strikeouts, while Cleveland had little known heroes like Roberto Perez, Jose Ramirez, and Lonnie Chisenhall go 8-23 (.348) with 2 HR, 5 RBI, and six runs scored. Let's also not forget what happened in game one -
Miller and the Indians staff pitches masterfully against the regular season's best offense - When Cleveland brought Andrew Miller into the fold, it was the signal to everybody that they were ready for a historic October run. Cleveland gave up a haul of big prospects for a reliever, who so far in this postseason alone has shown why they did it. Miller struck out 7 over four scoreless innings in the ALDS, all of which were extremely high leverage innings for the Indians. The rest of the Indians staff, including Cody Allen who locked down two high stress level saves, did an incredible job of keeping the Red Sox bats silent. The Indians staff posted a 2.33 ERA, holding Boston to just seven earned runs, preventing David Ortiz from anymore magical moments (Ortiz went just 1-9 on the series).
Terry Francona and the Indians will begin prep for a seven game ALCS with the Toronto Blue Jays
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The postseason is far from over for Cleveland, as they look to get eight more wins to accomplish every player's dream. While the Toronto Blue Jays will be not be even remotely easy for Cleveland to defeat, and if they advance to the World Series it will get even tougher, one has to wonder if one of the most magical World Series wins in history is in store for this team. After all the speed bumps Cleveland has overcome and all the resiliency they have shown, absolutely nothing would cap off this fairy-tail like season than a World Series win. Second Baseman Jason Kipnis said "We believe this is our year and nobody can tell us any different" following their AL Central division clinching game, and after the sweep of Boston maybe some more people believe it. Nobody would have believed that Cleveland would overcome all the odds that they have to even be in the playoffs, let alone sweep the ALDS. Why would a World Series be any more unbelievable?
The 2016 MLB postseason is full of veterans and rookies alike, all striving for one goal: get that World Series Championship ring. Carlos Beltran of the Texas Rangers, for instance, is in the midst of his sixth postseason appearance and has established himself as one of the best in the history of the game as far as postseason performance, but has yet to win a World Series. Out of every player striving to complete every athletes main goal, Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor may want it worse than anybody.
“I want to see myself as a winner, I want to play the last game of the playoffs and talk to [the media] and say, ‘we won.’ I always want to win. When I come home and tell my dad, ‘Dad, I won a World Series,’ to me that’s it. That’s it. That is it. He worked so hard for me to be where I am right now and I am working so hard to be in the World Series. Winning. Hoping my team wins. Being successful. Helping my team win and us celebrating.” - Lindor following the 2015 season
"That's fine. Whatever happens, happens, I don't play for any awards. I play for October baseball. That's what it's all about. The biggest accomplishment anyone could have is win the World Series. You can see this Kansas City team. They've got Gold Glovers, All-Stars and Silver Sluggers. And you can ask them, 'What was the best part of your career so far?' They will say winning the World Series. That's what I want." - Lindor last July when asked about low All-star vote total
Lindor after ALDS game one solo homerun
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"I want to be in the ALCS. I want to be in the World Series. I want to win the World Series. That's ultimately what I play for. I play to try to bring a championship to the city of Cleveland, and I want to wear a ring. That's what I want. I want to continue to get better to help my team win, and I want to be part of a winning team. My message to Indians fans right now is, enjoy it, watch the games, have fun. We'll be there. We'll have our time where we are playing in the playoffs. We're going to be winning series and hopefully win a championship. That's my goal, that's everybody's goal on the team, and as a city, that's going to be our goal. Everybody is going to pull in the same direction, and it's going to be a special thing like the Cubs have right now. It's going to be a beautiful moment and we are going to enjoy it. Just keep on believing." - Lindor during the 2015 Playoffs after Cleveland failed to reach them
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"It's an honor to be mentioned that way, and it's a blessing to be even mentioned for the Rookie of the Year Award. "I'm doing my thing, I'm enjoying my offseason, I'm enjoying my family and my time off. Watching them play, in a way I'm happy but in a way it's a little upsetting, because I want to be there. I want the Indians to be playing right now instead of us sitting on the couch watching them." - Lindor during the 2015 playoffs when asked about ROY consideration
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All year long Lindor's focus has been on not only reaching the playoffs, but winning a ring for Cleveland. "Frankie's" solo homerun in game one of the ALDS was the biggest hit of his career, and expect him to have some even bigger ones as the postseason continues. Lindor may or may not get his ring this year, but whether it's this year or another one, rest assured that if the Indians win a World Series that Lindor will likely be one of the biggest driving forces behind it