Friday, October 13, 2017

I don't care - an open letter to Tribe fans everywhere

The AL Championship Series started tonight but I just don't care.  

But that is not what this post is about.   This post is to Tribe fans everywhere.  

I am 64 years old and have been a diehard fan of the Indians since 1960.   They are my team.   I have seen the Cavs play in person a couple of times and been to some Browns games in the dead of winter at old Muncipal Stadium.  These were my teams because they were Cleveland teams, my hometown teams.

But the Indians were always my team.

In reflecting on the loss on Wednesday and the entire season, here is what I have come to believe.

The glory in your season comes from the season itself, not the outcome.   Chasing the dream of winning the World Series, of breaking the string of years that stretch from 1949 to, well, whenever we win the World Series, is foolhardy.

Getting upset over not winning the World Series is foolhardy.   There is a greater than 95% chance every year that we won't win the World Series.

So why should the success or failure of our team be tied to it?

My epiphany came when I saw the Nationals lose at home to the Cubs last night.   You know how many times in the past 6 years the Nationals have lost in the NLDS?   Four times in the four years they were in the playoffs.   They are worse than the Buffalo Bills in futility because the Nationals don't even make it out of the first round of the playoffs. 

You see, if the Nationals and their fans felt that their season came down to the WS then their fans should not come to any games but WS games in the future.  The Nationals should, by all rights, play to a nearly empty house (except for families and friends of the players and people who got freebee tickets) every night.   Their fans KNOW they are going to win the NL East so why bother coming?

The thing is that a lot of people come to watch baseball for baseball sake.   They love the game.  

It is when the fans and players and management have the attitude that "I will only consider this a successful season IF..." that the fun is taken out of the game for the fans. 

Last year Francona had the players thinking one game at a time.   This year during the streak Francona had his players thinking about one game at a time.   But somehow, because of the near miss last year and the fact that the pundits and odds makers were all saying the Indians were a lock to win the WS, people started to get the idea that THIS was the season.  THIS time we were going to win the WS championship.

And look what happened.  Everybody lost sight of the ultimate baseball truths: 

(1) the best team on paper doesn't always win.  You could go on and say hardly ever wins. 

(2) you can never count on your players to play as well as you want them to.

(3) S--- happens, meaning that injuries happen, bad luck happens, fate happens and, of course, a blind squirrel sometimes does find an acorn.   All of these conspire to make sure that the best team doesn't always win.   Imagine how Yankees fans were feeling when Yan Gomes said that on his game winning hit in game 2 he was just trying to hit the ball to the right side to advance the runner to 3rd base and wound up hitting the ball down the left field line.  Isn't that the definition of the blind squirrel finding an acorn?

So many things can keep your team, our team, from winning the series.  Yeah, we can blame Francona and, to some extent, he is to blame.  He is to blame because he couldn't pull ANY rabbits out of his hat to win this series.  He couldn't, this year, overcome (1) through (3) above.   You just can't do that every year.

So, my advice to Cleveland fans is to remember that they can't control destiny.  They can only enjoy the ride. I am mad as hell that the Indians didn't advance but, truth be told, playing like they were playing against the Yankees sealed that they weren't going to GET to the World Series, let alone win it.  It just wasn't in the cards for them this year.

Maybe next year the stars will align and the Indians will win.  Maybe I will die before the Indians win the WS. But I can tell you this:  On my deathbed...if I am talking about baseball on my deathbed...I won't be saying "Man, why couldn't the Indians just win the WS once in my lifetime?"  If I am thinking about baseball at all, if I am talking about baseball at all, I will be talking about Giambi's pinchhit HR in 2014 when we were streaking to get to the wildcard game, Davis' HR of Chapman in 2016 and the streak and all the other records from 2017.

If I die talking about those things I will likely die with a smile on my face because that is baseball.  You can't predict it.  You can't count on the result in a short series to go your way.  What you can count on is that if the body of work for a team in a season or over several seasons looks good, you SHOULD be happy as a fan.

Let's ask your average diehard Browns fan if they would take the Buffalo Bills' frustration over not winning a Super Bowl in so many tries over what they have to deal with now.   I hope they would all say "Hell Yes" now and after 4 seasons of that 'frustration'.

If the Indians go to the playoffs for the next two years and then have an exciting team for the next 5 after that and NEVER win the WS during my lifetime, that is a GREAT victory for the franchise, much greater than the one-and-done of the Marlins in 2007. 

So, Indians' fans.  Rejoice about the ride and never worry about the sudden stop at the end. Just like last year when many Indians' fans I talked to were not that upset after the WS because they knew they had gotten their money's worth out of their team, so it is true this year.   We got MORE than our money's worth out of this team.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Thanks for the memories

First, for the 84 hits on my blog site from Russia in the past 4 hours, WTF!?!?!  I should probably get the Attorney General on the phone and have him investigate that. 

About the Indians, nothing else really to say at this point.   Great season, great results but, in the end, you gotta hit, you gotta pitch and you gotta play defense.  And, if you can't do all of those things AT LEAST you gotta step up at crunch time and deliver.  We had almost NONE of that hero stuff that makes up for uneven play.   Too bad.  We needed it.

Here are some other thoughts:

Kluber - The guy is hurt.  I think it is unlikely he will pitch next year if he is hurt as seriously as I think he is.  I was thinking what John Smoltz said, you just can't put that many relievers in without the chance of one of them (in this case Allen) having a hiccup.

Miller - I think Miller has some miles on him, too.  I think he will come back strong if his knee gets healthy.

Jose Ramirez - What can you say?  Did the Yankees have a good scouting report on him or a good pitching plan?  I guess we will find out next year after baseball takes note of this series.   Otherwise, I guess all you can say is that he didn't perform on the biggest stages there is.   His AB in game 2 against Sabathia with the bases loaded was probably the worst AB I have seen from an Indians' batter in the past two years (even worse than Gomes AB in the WS last year).  And Ramirez never came back from that AB.   You have to be able to pick up your team if you are the hitter we thought he was.  But he didn't.

Lindor - Take away the grand slam and he had nothing this series.   A young guy put in a pressure situation and he didn't perform.  Given the shape we were in, we needed more from him.   His double play ball in the 5th when we had already scored two runs was really a killer, topping off a really bad series for him...other than that incredibly important grand slam. 

Encarnacion - Mercifully (or unfortunately) he got hurt.   On the glass half empty front he could have had a series like Ramirez if he wasn't hurt, based on Game 1 and Game 5.  On the glass half full side he might have run into a couple of HRs if he wasn't hurt, like in Game 3. 

Brantley - His injury is really concerning to me.  Not the injury, which will likely heal by next year.   But the TYPE of injury, almost a non-contact, scratch your head kind of injury and the time it took to recover from that after the time it took him to recover from his shoulder surgery last year.   I am afraid his body is falling apart.  He needs another big intervention to make his body solid.  Otherwise, it will be one thing after another every year and with a guy like Brantley, that might take him out of the league in another 2 years.

Bruce - He was a leader for two games and then disappeared.   Still, had everyone played as they should his performance would have been considered solid.  Right now it just looks like he had a couple of games of magic and then not much else.   But, in truth, he played pretty well.  He's gone anyway as I would not be willing to pay him what he wanted which is likely Encarnacion money.

The loss of Zimmer - I don't think it hurt us at all.   If we thought Brantley was flailing Zimmer would have been much worse.  Think Aaron Judge bad.

Rest of the team - Olson was good.  Gomes and Perez played good defense (mostly) and had their offensive moments.  Olson and Shaw were good.  Carrasco was great.   Joe Smith was OK until the end of the last game.  The other guys did only a little or, in some cases, nothing to distinguish themselves.   We needed more out of the rest of the team but maybe with more experience next year we will get what we need.   I mean last year it was Perez and Chisenhall (especially against David Price).  This year, except for the Perez HR in a way losing effort, there wasn't much.   Last year we got some Bruce-like performances out of guys.  

Guys who are in the minors or in the majors but left off the roster - Right now, I don't see any Lindors, Ramirezs or even Clevingers on the horizon.   Just spare parts like the major leaguers who didn't make the post-season roster.  Too bad because we could use a hitting 3B guy or could use Mejia to jump in and do a Sanchez impersonation next year.   Don't think we will get than so what you saw this year is likely to be what you will get next year from all these guys.

Francona - He is a very good manager, but he is not a wizard.  Unfortunately, this team needed some wizardry in the post-season and he couldn't provide that this year. 

This team was a lot like the Cavs last year.   Lots of talent but not able to finish the job.   I don't know any way around that other than to get guys hungry for next year.   If a pathetic post-season like this doesn't make guys hungry, then they are not breathing.  Certainly now they have the post season experience of what it is like to fall on your faces and embarrass yourselves on national TV.

Hopefully they will use that to fire their preparation for next year.

Good season, guys.   Finish the job next year.  And, on the glass half full side, thanks for giving me three weeks of my time back for the rest of October.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hit or go home

Well, that didn't go so well!   So now we are on to game 5.

We will be at home.   We will have the AL Cy Young award winner on the mound.    Miller and Allen will be rested.  While nothing is ever a lock, this gives us a great chance to win, right?

The only problem is in baseball there are no style points.   The one with the most runs wins and no matter how well your team pitches, if it doesn't score runs you don't win.

Just look at the Nationals yesterday.  Scherzer has a no-hitter through 6 innings.   The only problem is that his team could only muster 3 hits and 1 run for the entire game.   It left his great pitching performance vulnerable to any hiccup and the bullpen with the same vulnerability.  The end result is that the Cubs got a run in the 7th and one in the 8th to win 2-1.

If the Yankees needed a blueprint of how to beat a Cy Young award winner at his best, there you have it.   Just make sure the other team's offense sucks.  Just like in Game 3.

The post-season is about performance and, usually, performance above what is seen in the regular season, even if only for short spurts (insert Jay Bruce in games 1 and 2).

We have a bunch of holes in our lineup.   DH, C, 3B.   That is the given.   The issue is that Lindor isn't hitting and Ramirez isn't hitting.   Without those two there is a chance we won't be able to score any runs.  Another 5 feet on Lindor's drive in the second game and we might not be having this conversation...but the problem would still exist as that would have given Lindor only two hits in 3 games at that point.   We need to hit better.   We need to find a way.  People need to get it done.  Heck, Kyle Schwarber hadn't played almost the whole season and he came back to help the Cubs win last year.  We need some of that plus our main guys need to hit.  

No matter how well we pitch we need to score some runs.  I mean, if I am Francona I am even considering putting my backup catcher as my DH.  That's how bad the hitting situation is.  I mean Encarnacion on one leg is better than Brantley whose only hit  this series was on a meatball over the middle of the plate with the Indians behind by 4 and could give the illusion he has found his stroke.  Hmmmm?!?

So, the formula for winning is obviously to have Kluber be Kluber and the bullpen to be in shutdown mode.   But we need to hit.  Lindor and Ramirez need big games.   We need to get about 6 hits and some runs/RBIs out of Jackson, Bruce, Santana and Kipnis and we need to get game 2-like production out of our DH, C, 3B (probably 4 times on base, good small ball and no double plays in 12 plate appearances).

I have never been as at ease about a crucial game as I am about this one.  Not because I think we have it in the bag, because that is not what I think.   The reason I am at ease is that the formula for winning this game is simple: just hit....or go home for the winter.  No matter how the Indians pitch, if they don't hit, it doesn't matter.  Just ask Max Scherzer. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Thoughts from Game 3 and thinking about Game 4

Look, this is baseball.   Francona talks about being able to survive the ups and downs of the playoffs. 

I was reading Tom Verduzzo's (sp?) column about how Indians fans should be aware of what chokers the Indians are as they have lost 16 of 20 elimination games in the playoffs over the years.   Well, I have been drinking the Francona koolaid and I am not fazed by that attempt at baiting Indians fans or giving Yankees fans hope...or trying to get people to watch to up the ratings. 

Last night's game does give us some things to talk about.   Here are a few:

1. Michael Brantley is lost.   Mark McGwire, late in his career, was having lower extremity problems and said something like: 'I have no base.  You can't hit without a base.'  By that he meant if you are having leg/foot problems you can't generate any power.   What's left is rolling over a lot of balls and being late of pitches that you would normally hit.  Brantley is put in an unusual situation.   He wants to play and the Indians need him to be productive.  This isn't working.   Time to hope Encarnacion comes back...but with a bum ankle he has no base either.

2. Regarding Encarnacion, I said that in the playoffs you can survive two holes in your lineup and, with the Indians' pitching, maybe even three nearly automatic outs.   But 4 or more guys who can't hit in the playoff environment leads to what you saw last night.  In the 9-8 game our lower hitters actually helped out and they were productive in the 4-0 game, in terms of getting on base.    Right now we have Urshela, our catcher and our DH as unproductive.  We could survive that IF Ramirez was being Ramirez.  But he isn't.   He currently looks like the current version of Michael Brantley.  If there has been a goat so far in this series it is Ramirez.  He really needs to pick it up for the rest of the playoffs or the rest of the playoffs won't be that long.

3. Jay Bruce has been effective but what you see is what you get.   Don't expect him to hit more than .250 in the playoffs with some power.   I would like to see him walk some and be more selective.  The way he and Ramirez were flailing at Tanaka's dirtballs was more like I would have expected out of Yandy Diaz, that is, out of a rookie.  

Regarding tonight's game, it will be interesting.  Severino has had a great year.  I don't expect his night tonight to end like his playoff game against Minnesota so Bauer needs to be on.  As far as Bauer, I don't think he is blowing smoke about the short rest.   I think he really does have the ability, maybe more than any other pitcher on the Indians' roster, of being effective on short rest.   Still, he has never done it so there is some fear that he might not be as in control as he was in Game 1.  And,no, Mr. Verduzzo, that isn't because of any predisposition to the Indians losing elimination games.  It's just because he hasn't done it before.   But, as usual, I trust in Tito.  I would rather have Bauer starting than Tomlin, especially against the Yankees.  And I don't know what happened to Salazar, although I expect to see him eat innings tonight if the game gets ugly for the Indians early.

This is playoff baseball.   As Livingston said in the Plain Dealer today, there will be angst.   As Francona said, he tries to set his team up to handle that angst and think towards the next game. 

What the Indians have accomplished this season gives me peace.  It really does, just like last year's 7 game loss in the WS left me peaceful on what the Indians accomplished.  After this series, after this season, I will still have that peace and still be a diehard Indians' fan.  Nothing will change.  Go Tribe!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Question for the off day tomorrow: Do we replace Encarnacion on the roster

For those of us who have had sprained ankles tonight's was especially gruesome.   When I was younger they said 6 weeks to fully recover.   I know with modern medicine this can be faster but how many of us think Encarnacion will be ready in the next 2 days, or 4 days, or even the next two weeks?

He apparently left the locker room on crutches wearing a boot to protect his ankle.

Now, MLB rules allow a team to petition to replace an injured player (Boston just did it with Eduardo Nunez who hurt his knee in game 1).   If they would replace Encarnacion he would be done for this playoff series AND the league championship series, if the Indians get that far. 

He could come back for the World Series which is scheduled to start on Oct. 24th.  That's 18 days from when it was injured which MIGHT happen, depending on if it looked worse than it really is.

So, the question of the day is: do you replace Encarnacion now or go the rest of this series and see how is progressing before you replace him and, as a result, go with a short roster the rest of this series. 

If you replace him who do you replace him with?  Another pitcher for the rest of this series?  Yandy Diaz as a replacement hitter, especially when we see how weak Michael Brantley appears to be right now?

You still would get to readjust your roster next series if you replace Encarnacion.  He just wouldn't be eligible. 

So, this is a good topic for Saturday.   What would you do?

Game 2 Takeaways

First, Yan Gomes has to feel better than he did last year at this time.   His confidence looked like it was building toward the end of the regular season and this game can only help.   His defense was great and his hitting was timely.  I was screaming at the TV for the Indians not to give up....Gomes never did.

Second, Tito hardly ever makes a mistake.  Letting Brantley DH was trying to catch lightning in a bottle.  Well, I have seen Brantley for more than a week now and he is absolutely no help to this team right now. Chisenhall should have been the DH when Encarnacion got hurt.  Hopefully that will be the way it is on Sunday.  Brantley should be saved for the Kirk Gibson moment in a game.

Third, regarding Encarnacion he had not looked good this series up to the time of his injury.  He looked, frankly, like he did in April and May.  I mean EXACTLY like he did in those months.   Losing him, and I am sure we have lost him for the rest of this series and most likely the next if we get that far.  Losing him on paper is a huge loss but losing the April Encarnacion would not be that big of a loss.

Fourth, Kluber looked so bad.  Mental note: Starting him on 5 days rest might not have been that good an idea and it makes me wonder what Carrasco will look like on, what is it, 8 days rest.

Fifth, the bullpen, except for Clevinger, looked good again.  Tomlin really gutted it out.   Just like last year, getting more out than his tools would suggest he has to give.  And he gets a victory.

Sixth, Jose Ramirez really looks mad.  Unfortunately usually lost follow mad which, eventually, is followed by a hot streak.   Can we skip over the remaining mad and completely skip the lost and go right into the hot streak?  We need the hot Jose now more than ever.  If I have to watch another AB like his bases loaded one tonight I think I am going to puke.

Seventh, I am really glad for Lindor.   He could be Ramirez part deux right now if not for that grand slam off the fair pole. 

Eighth, is that Austin Jackson or is that Rajai Davis wearing Austin Jackson's uniform?

Nineth, we need Chisenhall to be the April-May version now more than ever.  Right now he just looks like a HB above Brantley....a lot like Gomes looked pre-injury last year.

Tenth, and final.   Bruce.   Doesn't he just epitomize what a post-season veteran should play like?   I wish Encarnacion had not gotten hurt because I think watching Bruce play might have elevated Edwin's game.  Hopefully it elevates everyone's game.  I am pretty sure it has helped Lindor and some of the other players elevate their games already.  What a great pickup by us. 

Game 1 in the books

No one really knows what will happen day-to-day in baseball.   That's why they play the games.

On paper the next two games we have our best two pitchers but victory is never guaranteed.

One thing for sure is that we have to hit better to avoid 2-1 games.   If we hit well and have decent luck we will be in a good position to win. 

That being said, let's talk about Game 1 last night.

You know when you are working out and you see yourself in the mirror from day to day and you don't see any difference and then one day a friend who hasn't seen you in 6  months tells you how great you look?  Well that is the fate of the Cleveland Indians' fan.   Sometimes we forget how good our pitching is.   We really do.  We focus on Kluber.   We focus on Carrasco.  We focus on Miller.   We EXPECT success but only because we have seen it so many times that now the fear that comes with being an Indians' fan melts away.

But last night was different.  Bauer was amazing and against a lineup that just two nights before has dismantled the ace of the Twins, Ervin Santana.   Now, no one is going to mistake Santana for Corey Kluber, but Santana is good.   The Yankees beat a good pitcher on Tuesday.  On Thursday they faced Trevor Bauer and he totally disarmed the best offense in baseball.   Our 3rd best starter!  Yeah, we can all give Tito credit as we should.  He is a genius.  And we hit just enough to win.  But Bauer is the one who had to do it on the mound.   Can he last for 10 years throwing this many curve balls?  Probably not.   But while he is throwing them successfully, he is being dominant. 

So, sit back Indians' fans and, despite anything that happens the rest of the year, realize that we now have three potential aces on the Indians' pitching staff.   We didn't trade for these aces, although we did trade, early in their careers for the big 3.   But we have them.   Enjoy them and enjoy the rest of the season. 

Now let's go score some big runs off of the Yankees today and take game 2.  Yesterday was the Yankees game to steal in this series and Bauer and Bruce shut them down.   Now we need to press the issue and win today.