Searching for perspective on the 2013 Indians

what-if-we-die1

what-if-we-die1For all the bluster in Cleveland about stick-to-it-ive perseverance, we’ve become fairly adept at pre-baking narratives of defeat into our sports fandom. Each year, and in every sport, we eventually get ourselves to the same point: The recognition that the team we are watching is not good enough, and that we should’ve seen it sooner than we did. Sucker-punched yet again by training camp kool-aid and spring training storylines. Repeat this loop of failure long enough and you get a group who is constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. We replace hoping for the best with fearing for the worst with plain old awaiting the implosion. To be fair, we usually get it, so at least we look prescient when all’s said and done.

In football, there’s the mid-October mass-realization that—despite the biennial front-office and roster makeover—we are again watching what is essentially a five-win team.1 In the NBA, there’s the initial bargaining of “but this is only the second-third first year after Lebron left” coupled with the notion that “if only that guy who always gets injured didn’t get injured we could be a .500 team!” But eventually the reality sets in that the team is still at least another year and star away from anything resembling competence.2 And in baseball, we’ve been let down by the Indians in one way or another every year since at least the 1994 players strike, though we could certainly go back further if we felt like it. The Indians’ failures—both the nationally televised heart-crushing ones like blowing the World Series or a three-game lead in the ALCS as well as the banality of their recent August swoons—have become a part of us. It’s not if they’ll blow it, but how and when.

It is this sense of ineluctability that I find chipping away at my best-laid plans for objectivity. For example, while I know that six-game losing streaks happen all the time—even to good teams—when one happens to my team it can feel like all is lost. I knew before the season started how much better Detroit was than the Indians, but to see it writ large over an excruciating four-game series felt almost like a personal affront: so this is the soul-crushing booby trap that’s been planted for me this year? If there’s always a moment of failure waiting around the corner, everything becomes a harbinger of doom.

So let me take a second to try to recalibrate here. There are a few points I’d like to make about the Indians this season, and I hope they’ll help me fend off impending despair for at least a few minutes.

The Indians still have a chance to make the post-season. Granted, their odds aren’t as good as they were before the home stand, but they still have about a 20% shot, which is arguably a better chance than the Browns have right now. The Indians also get to face some of their competition for that playoff spot over the last month and a half of the season—multiple games against Baltimore, Oakland and Kansas City (not to mention Detroit)—giving them some ability to control their own destiny. Basically, if you could design a schedule for this group, it might look pretty close to what they have, with games either against teams who aren’t much good or teams who they’ll be vying against for a playoff spot.3 The point is that I still think there’s plenty of meaningful baseball left this season for these guys, and while nothing is guaranteed, well, nothing is guaranteed. Still a good enough reason for me to watch most nights.

The Indians are exceeding expectations, as difficult as that is to remember. Before the season, the WFNY gang all threw a best guess into the ring on how the Indians would fair in 2013. Below are our predictions:

  W L
Jon 83 79
Kirk 86 76
Scott 82 80
Craig 85 77
Andrew 80 82
Jacob 82 80
Rick 80 82
TD 83 79
AVERAGE 83 79

But that’s not an entirely fair assessment of pre-season sentiment toward the 2013 Indians. After all, we are a homer site and likely a bit more inclined to see the team’s better angels than a truly objective analyst. Let’s get a few more data points:

  W L
Sports Illustrated 75 87
ZIPS/BP 80 82
CAIRO 81 81
Vegas 77.5 84.5
AVERAGE 78 84

I know no one cares about these numbers right now, but let’s keep in mind that heading into the series against Minnesota, the Indians were 63-55, which meant they were on pace to finish the season at 86-76, beyond even the expectations of our wildest homer, Kirk—to say nothing of those Debbie Downers in Nevada. It’s not that I want you to forgive a potential collapse that’s lurking around the corner; rather, I’d just like to remember that nobody thought this team would be even this good. They’re playing better than we thought they would, and that deserves mention, if only because it’s made them a fun team to watch this season.

I’m tired of trying to cram reality into makeshift narratives. The Indians might not make the playoffs. They probably won’t, in fact. They might crumble miserably down the stretch, depriving me of the one thing I crave most from them: meaningful September baseball.

But even if they do, I’m not sure that it really means anything tangible. It doesn’t mean, for instance, that it was a mistake to sign Nick Swisher. Or that the Brett Myers deal cost us our championship. Or that Chief Wahoo’s curse is real. Or that Cleveland is for losers. Those are just stories we tell ourselves to make sense of how much losing we’ve endured.

I think I’ve decided that this team is (finally) worthy of the massive amounts of time that they get from me. That wasn’t necessarily true in 2009. Or 2010. Or 2011. Or 2012. They’ve gotten a lot of years from me that they didn’t deserve, but this one feels different. It sounds maudlin to say, but I’ve enjoyed being an Indians fan this year; that’s the first time I could say that in a half decade.

And that’s true no matter how this story ends. Whether they pull out something wonderful and make the playoffs or they fall apart on this road trip and all hope is lost (or, as is most likely, they end up somewhere in between), that won’t really change the fact that this team has been fun to watch this year.

On the one hand, I know that every year the Indians don’t win a World Series, there are literally thousands of people who die without seeing the one thing that they’d hoped to; I don’t mean to poo-poo that. It’s an unimaginably sad thought, and I don’t enjoy dwelling on it too much.

But by the same token, this isn’t supposed to be about life and death all the time. We have a fun team with a decent shot. When did we become entitled to much more? I guess I get sick and tired of the schtick about the blue collar town, lugging its lunch pail ten miles to work each day, uphill both ways, and living and dying with [insert team name here]. That’s just a dumb and tired story, peddled by hucksters to sell grief to a town that’s always buying.

I’m full-up, for once.

___________________________________________________

Footnotes:

  1. I used to live on West Ninth St. and, week after week, I’d sit on my balcony and watch the fans leave the stadium. Week 1’s, “Hey, they’re not half-bad!” turns into Week 6’s “I was right—they’re all bad!” pretty quickly. Hey, at least everyone was drunk! []
  2. This is to say nothing of the failures leading up to and including The Decision™. []
  3. The notable exception is a three-game series in Atlanta at the end of the month, which could be a back-breaker. There I go again… []
  • nj0

    It’s also worth remembering how bad this team was last year. 68 wins. .500 ball puts us at about 83 wins or so.

  • Natedawg86

    Need to probably win 90-92 to have a chance at WC. That means either 27-16 or 29-14.
    I am hoping that the tribe is tied for second place with two other teams, and we have to play at least 2 x one game series to get into the first non-one game playoff series

  • TD

    Good stuff Jon….

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    There’s always next year!

  • Natedawg86

    If it goes Head to Head tiebeaker (remaining games),
    We are +3 vs KC(6), E with Bal (3H), -2 vs TB (0), +4 Oak (3), +4 TX (0)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Don’t worry it won’t. :-(

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Much improved yes. Plenty of work left to do which requires additional investment by ownership absolutely. Playoffs nope.

  • Natedawg86

    All we need to do is play .500 ball (after winning 12 or so straight)

  • nj0

    Yes, yes, and yes.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Pffft no problem as soon as Mark Reynolds heats up like mgbode told me he would this offense will get cookin’!

  • nj0

    I’m really not sure what this team is going to be able to realistically do this off-season. Unless we see an up-tick in payroll, I can’t see us doing much more than adding one Myers/Reynolds-esque hail mary and the usual what-sticks-to-the-wall vet spring training invites. I kind of wished Bourn or Swisher would have outplayed their contracts this year so we could have flipped them.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    C’mon man!

  • BuckeyeDawg

    I was just thinking about this this morning. If you had told me in March that this team would finish at or slightly above .500, but would miss the playoffs by a few games, I would have said “yeah…sounds about right”. That’s probably about where they will be as season’s end.

    After watching them self-immolate over the past week, this still isn’t very comforting, though…

  • MallaLubba

    Do we really want our teams to be in control of their own destiny?

  • Jeremy Campbell

    It is very telling that you said what you crave MOST is for the Indians to be playing meaningful September baseball. A World Series ring is that far out of our minds.

  • Steve

    Still would need a couple OFers then, and the FA list for them is not strong this winter.

    This team will need one of its young pitchers to step up and be a legit front of the rotation arm for a full season.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    Yep. I’m sure the Dolans don’t want to hear this, but this is the offseason when we find out if they are dedicated to building a winner or not. We have clawed our way back to respectability and are within striking distance of the playoffs. Will ownership/management do what is necessary to put this team over the top and into contention for a championship? Or will the wallet close back up and will we be stuck hoping that every single variable has to go our way for us to even have a chance at the postseason?

    I fear I already know the answer to this, but I shall remain hopeful…

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Jon doesn’t want to come across as being greedy that’s all. I’m all for starting with being relevant. To date this team has done a much better job then I could have imagined but there are still more games to be played and they need to start playing better sooner rather then later.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Thumbs up I agree and we’ll see if this past winter was the exception and not the norm. Clearly everyone can see one offseason won’t be enough to turn this thing around. It’s a start but as njo posted it’s a long road from 68 wins to the playoffs.

  • Harv 21

    “I know that every year the Indians don’t win a World Series, there are
    literally thousands of people who die without seeing the one thing that
    they’d hoped to.”

    Sure, ok. But literally thousands of people in the western, developed world don’t die without the opportunity to taste ice cream once. Even the homeless guy who perches near my office periodically eats ice cream – I’ve seen it. Going deep in the playoffs, even a ring for a city is not a rare diamond. Don’t pull out your preseason predictions and deny us the weirdness of all this, Jon, just cuz today you happen to be tired of whining.

    But that hyperbole aside, right on.They’re generally proceeding according to their talent level. Re the playoff potential, guess I’d just add that teams with multiple long losing streaks and bullpens still shaky in mid-August don’t usually get there.

  • The_Matt_Of_Akron

    We were in control of our own destiny in 2005. All we had to do is win ONE game at home against the White Sox in that last weekend, and we’re in the playoffs. We got swept.

    I’d still rather be in control of our own destiny, though. Because I don’t like having to root for other teams.

  • nj0

    Of course we would.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Power hitting RF, 3B, 1B and an ACE is all they need! Although I think Santana being moved to 1B and Gomes to C would be a start. Just need to find another backup for Gomes and figure out what to do with the Swish. Perhaps DH.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    AMEN brother Harv speak that truth!!!

  • nj0

    Sure we can find all that with the $7M we’ll have to spend.

  • nj0
  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    The “people dying without a championship” thing is an ongoing theme that Jon and I have talked about in the podcast. I won’t speak for Jon, but whenever we talked about it I just assumed it as only relevant in the microcosm of sports. An important point to re-iterate though Harv.

  • DC

    I read this blog everyday, multiple times, and so far this is the most well written piece I have read. It is delightfully sobering in the fact that all the sentiment throught the piece doesn’t just tug at the heart strings of Cleveland sports fans, but to a greater extent, any sports fan that has dealt with futility on a larger scale and what it actually feels like to “wait ’til next year”.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Yea good point. Okay how about this lets just move the fences in? It’ll be cheaper for Paul and Larry.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Hmmmmm okay but not a penny more then $4,995,999. With the balance of the leftover $7M I’m going to go after that left handed power hitting disabled list rider Pronx guy!

  • Harv 21

    don’t understand what you’re saying, Craig. My point is that it’s epically weird the town can’t at least compete, even on a rotational basis, in the three sports. No, it’s not life and death. But it’s supposed to be entertainment, and if it’s not entertaining and we don’t whine about it that’s totally weird. Don’t tell us to stop whining that you pay for bad entertainment. That is unacceptable.

  • WFNYJon

    I don’t think I understand the ice cream metaphor. Professional sports championships = Frostees?

    But I’m not trying to tell anyone not to whine. Whining is what made this city great, along with all those blue collars and grititude. We may not be entitled to much, but we’re certainly entitled to complain.

    I’m just not in the mood myself.

  • Harv 21

    Rings aren’t rare. Ice cream isn’t rare. It’s August. I want ice cream. What are the chances there’s not even accidental ice cream in this town – 60 years and a melting drumstick hasn’t even dropped out of a drunk tourist’s hand.

    And grititude is not a word. I know it’s supposed to be gritty attitude but too close to gratitude, way too close.

  • Steve

    How easy it is to spend someone else’s money.

    What’s the player/deal that puts this team over the top?

  • nj0

    Since I’m bored, here’s a list of 2014 OF FAs w. random thoughts. Consider this proof that I wasn’t working very hard this afternoon.
    * = option year

    Alfredo Amezaga- no
    Rick Ankiel- no
    Norichika Aoki*- no power leftie, sort of an Asian Stubbs
    Jeff Baker- platoon rightie, can play all the corner positions
    Jason Bay- no
    Carlos Beltran- probably still allergic to cleveland
    Shin-Soo Choo- $$$
    Coco Crisp*- staying in oakland
    Nelson Cruz – PED discount? kind of overrated imo
    Rajai Davis- no
    David DeJesus- no
    Mark DeRosa- no
    Matt Diaz- no
    Jacoby Ellsbury- $$$$$
    Jeff Francoeur- no!
    Curtis Granderson- mmmmmm!
    Franklin Gutierrez- 30, injuries, still a CF?
    Tony Gwynn Jr.- no
    Corey Hart- 1B/RF, can he still hit?
    Raul Ibanez- no
    Reed Johnson*- 36 year old, rightie platoon
    Austin Kearns- the only clear yes on the list
    Jason Kubel*- no
    Nate McLouth- a slightly better Michael Brantley
    Nyjer Morgan- god no
    Mike Morse- expect a lot of noise about him, no
    David Murphy- no
    Xavier Nady- no
    Laynce Nix- no
    Hunter Pence- a good 2013, how expensive?
    Juan Rivera- no
    Luke Scott- leftie platooner, basically a DH
    Ryan Sweeney- lefite platooner, can play all three positions
    Andres Torres- no
    Chris Young*- no
    Delmon Young- no

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    WFNY is giving out Frostees did I read that right? Send mine to the same address as that newest GV Artwork shirt please! ;-)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Gratitude dominus.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I see a lot of “NO”s, C’MON MAN!

  • mgbode

    I think you say it in jest, but that could be a potentially awesome week of baseball.

    beat the Royals for the slot in the 2nd wild card
    beat the O`s in the wildcard play-in game.
    get to face the Rangers in the divisional series.

    yeah, we’d be burning through SPs, but it’s not like the top of our rotation is all that much better than the bottom. think about how much fun it would be to watch that week of October.

  • mgbode

    it’s who he is. didn’t realize he was also a malcontent who would pout when his ABs were reduced though.

  • Natedawg86

    I don’t see the fat lady warming up anywhere. I wasn’t saying it in jest. We have positioned ourselves to potentially (KC) have the tiebreaker against all of the other WC teams (san TB). This could be huge. We don’t have to have a better record, just not a worse one. We play both Orioles and oakland which could gain us some ground. Woudn’t we play the Sox in div series?

  • Natedawg86

    Yeah that wasn’t fun last year rooting for the laker to win last season

  • Natedawg86

    I live in MD and a lot of the Bal Orioles fans weren’t upset when they lost last year in the PO. They were just saying they had a great season, one guy even said magical.

  • Natedawg86

    I will eat ice cream off the gound if I have to!

  • Natedawg86

    Who are we looking to replace? Stubbs?

  • Harv 21

    actually, that’s my preferred way, the way the early hominids ate it.

  • nj0

    In my head, yes.

  • markn95

    We desperately need to find a No. 4 hitter who is a sure thing to hit at least 20 HR’s (and preferably 25-30). That’s really the only weakness to the lineup which is otherwise pretty versatile. The guy doesn’t have to be a superstar but he does need to have consistent pop. I’d settle for any 1B/RF/LF/DH who fits that description and then find a way to put him in the lineup. I’m guessing Gomes will become the everyday catcher in 2014, moving Santana to 1B or DH. If Swisher then becomes the full-time RF and Stubbs loses out in that scenario, so be it. Or sign a corner bat and put him in RF.