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Indians Indians Archive For the Indians, How Does It End?
Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

Dennys"All things end badly, otherwise they wouldn't end."

It's probably one of the greatest lines you're going to pull out of any Tom Cruise, though arguments will be heard regarding ghostriders and full patterns, and as our favorite TV shows of the late 90s and early 2000s conclude, we are honest enough with ourselves to know that they will probably end badly.  Seinfeld was a train wreck, the masses didn't care for The Sopranos instant blackout, and The Office was at the tail end of a 2-year tailspin when a passable finale bailed it out.  Make no mistake about it; they all ended badly. So too, has every season of Indians baseball, from Mark Lewis's strikeout for the final out at Municipal Stadium to Edgar Renteria's ground ball up the middle at whatever Joe Robbie was called on that particular night in 1997.

They all end badly.  For many, this summer will be the time to start fooling ourselves that it will be different, that Vince Gilligan has something up his sleeve, and the final act of The Ballad of Walter White will satiate our needs as viewers.  So, why should Breaking Bad be any different?  Is it because we know we're watching something great as it's happening?  I don't think we really knew that as we watched The Wire, not until it was over and we looked back.  Even with that being the case, it didn't end well; it just ended, with a very up-front lesson in reality.  The bad guy doesn't always lose.  Not to go all Hawk Harrelson here, but it's okay to refer to the home team as the "good guys" in the case of the Indians, and we've dealt with the same reality for 65 years.

The good guys never win.  It always ends badly.

Of course, we don't know anything about October, so we don't have our buying a machine gun at Denny's moment to look forward to.  By the way, if you haven't seen Breaking Bad, I'm not giving anything away here, but it's one I highly recommend.  Anyway, we have an idea of what's going to happen in the same way we knew Episode III of Star Wars would end with Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader, but we know little of the events that lead up to it.  Forget about Walter White's meth operation for a second, I think we know how it ends for the Indians, but what if we're wrong?

Iwhat iff you can't read between the lines, I'm in the camp that doesn't believe, even though I used those two magic words that fans on social media have come to abhor, due to last year's insulting ad campaign.  All things end badly, remember?  However, things are different, maybe not different from the last 65 years, but certainly a pleasant change from what we've seen in the last 3 or 4.  When the Indians were hot out of the gate in 2011, it wasn't easy to explain.  Manny Acta was no miracle worker.  No one really feared the Indians.  They just feasted on teams that weren't as hungry early on, and their inevitable fall back to earth evened things out later in the season.  It was no accident, they didn't choke.  They just weren't that good.

The same held true in 2012, even though some of us tricked ourselves into believing the glass was half-full, that the early surge was real and the 2011 slide was a fluke.  When the glass came up half-empty again, it was devastating.  The players quit and there was no benefit of the doubt in Acta's corner, not any longer.  The front office had to answer to the fans, not the players.  For those of us being real with ourselves, we couldn't lay the blame on Casey Kotchman or Lou Marson for not coming up with the big hit.  That wasn't their role.  In 2011, the Indians lost a game in Minnesota when Luis Valbuena had to play left field late in a 1-run game; I understand that injuries occur and don't pin that loss on Valbuena specifically, but the starting outfield for that one was Austin Kearns, Ezequiel Carrera, and Travis Buck.  The Tribe somehow made it to July 19th at 51-44, despite the fact they should have been the Keystone Cops, on paper.

So, someone got their wake-up call.  Manny Acta wasn't the answer, so they brought in Terry Francona and his championship pedigree.  Some would be quick to point out that the front office bailed themselves out with this hire, especially when we learned of the out clause that allows "Tito" to bail if his buddies upstairs are dismissed by ownership.  Me, I was ready to ignore the strings that were attached, knowing the ripple effect of getting a name like that in the dugout.  No matter how good the food was at the Terrace Club, or how inspriring the words of Ohio State football coaches were, Nick Swisher probably wouldn't have been interested in playing for Mike Sarbaugh or even Sandy Alomar Jr.  Admittedly, Michael Bourn would probably be a New York Met, if the Mets weren't so cautious about losing their high draft pick this year, but we'll never know if he comes to Cleveland with anyone besides Francona running the show.

With Swisher, Bourn, and a group of other veterans brought in, you could tell on Day 1 in Goodyear that it was a whole new ballgame.  There is a picture of Francona in the clubhouse that is captioned, "I demand respect."  Frankly, they all should.  If you ask yourself honestly as fan, do you respect this team, I think the answer is yes.  Yes, they are streaky, which means it's the best of times, it's the worst of times, but they never get too high when they're hot and they don't quit when they're down.  I think the question marks surrounding the starting rotation provides a a great example.  Very early, with this staff, the mantra was Masterson and pray for rain, a lot of rain.  Disappointing is absolutely the way to describe Ubaldo Jimenez, but a win from Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, and Scott Kazmir means just as much in the standings.  You get the sense that these guys want to reward their pitchers for gutsy performances.

Brantley blastIt seems to be something that Drew Stubbs and Michael Brantley specialize in; that's why you love seeing them come up in a close game, right after a big double play or strikeout keeps runs off the board.  In the lone win over Detroit before a few weeks ago, the Tigers tied a game the Indians were leading 6-1 after 6, but Cody Allen came in and limited the damage, striking out Victor Martinez with runners in scoring position to end the threat.  Brantley crushed a 2-run shot in the bottom half of the inning.  There was a situation against Toronto where Joe Smith got a big double play to preserve a 2-run lead, where Stubbs responded with a lead-off double in the bottom of the frame.  They all seem to feed off each other.  Another case would be the Danny Salazar cameo.

After losing a Justin Masterson start that they should have won, the kid comes up and is nearly perfect.  The Indians have not lost since.  The stat sheet doesn't tell the entire story.  So far, it looks like the Dolans are getting a poor return on investment for Swisher and Bourn, but they have absolutely won games with timely hitting and good base-running, even if we're lucky that Swisher is hitting his weight and Bourn isn't stealing bases at the rate we'd like him to.  The truth is they are both better ballplayers than they were in the first half of 2013, a scenario that, with a 51-44 record, is better than thinking the Indians have gotten all of the baseball they're going to get out of their big investments.  Knowing that the best is yet to come is a good thing.

No matter how many times Kenny Lofton came back to the Indians, it was undeniable, from the beginning of the Indians relevance in the 90s that characters were going to change.  Just as Badger, Skinny Pete, and the late Combo weren't going to make the kind of cheese that Mr. White needed to take care of his family after he perished, we know that Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Albert Belle aren't walking through that door.  We wish CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee didn't have to go, and that Fausto Roberto Hernandez Carmona could have been his 2007 self, year over year, but reality doesn't work like that.  You need to evolve to your Gus Frings, your "Better Call" Sauls, and Mike Ehrmantrauts.  Something better than dwelling on the past needs to happen, something like Corey Kluber and Danny Salazer, in case the Trevor Bauer experiment doesn't pan out.

We all get tired of hearing about the "same script, different cast", if only because that script doesn't dictate the Indians get to play meaningful games in October.  Hell, when they do, they never get to win them.  Fortunately, baseball is a game and not a scripted show, but some things are just made clear.  When the plane went down on LOST, it was clear that they weren't getting home anytime soon, or ABC has an hour of airtime to fill for five years.  In the same sense of logic, if the Tigers have Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, with a pitching staff that includes a few guys throwing better than Justin Verlander, not to mention Verlander himself, they are going to be better than the Indians.  They should win more games.  That's the kind of thing that happens on paper.

The games aren't played on paper though, they're played on the diamond.  They're played by guys like Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, and Zach McAllister.  TD from Waiting For Next Year pointed out that Chad Ogea was the 2nd best pitcher in the playoffs for the Tribe the last time they won the pennant.  Speaking of teams that only win 83 games, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals beat the very Tigers that the Indians are currently chasing.  Of course, it's apples to oranges, considering what's changed since 2006, but it's just one of those "it could happen" things.

baconI don't think people think the Indians are a bad team, or even one that's necessarily worse than their slightly above .500 winning percentage, but don't expect anyone to think of them as potential World Champions.  Just as they struggled with a murderer's row stretch of good teams from the AL East in April, you have to hope they thrive in the coming weeks with series against Minnesota, Texas, Seattle, and Chicago.  They're 17-5 so far against those teams, so that's the time to gain some ground on Detroit.  After that, it's a 3-game set in Little Havana with the hapless Marlins, and the fun begins in August.

Four games with Detroit in early August at home, and another 3 in Detroit at the end of the month will likely tell the tale, but the Indians cannot afford to struggle on their west coast trip to Minnesota, Oakland, and Anaheim.  There's also a three-game set in Atlanta right before their final series with the Tigers at Comerica.  If the Indians aren't buried, September could provide a lot of interesting baseball.

If they are, we'll eat our Grand Slams and Moons over My Hammy, find out what Walter needs an automatic weapon for, and wait for pitchers and catchers to report for Goodyear, so we can do it all over again next year.

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