We’ve seen it before and we’ve seen it once again. If I was any kind of betting man I could probably make a case that it won’t be the last time. What am I talking about? Something that has become all too familiar in recent years.
The Cleveland Indians wilting under the pressure of expectations.
When I left for my Canadian vacation getaway, the Indians were still alive. They were only 3 or 4 games back, I don’t recall exactly, they were headed to Kansas City for a 3 game weekend set, and then were welcoming the Tigers to Progressive Field for what would be a make or break three game set. Sweep that series and the Indians would be in first place and shift all pressure back on the Tigers. Win two of three and they would be in striking distance. Lose two of three and… uh oh. Get swept and well… game over.
We all know what happened… Game over.
The Indians got swept. Actually, they didn’t just get swept. They got embarrassed and annihilated on their own turf. Outscored 22-9 for the series (10-1 in an embarrassing loss started by Carmona), the Indians never really had a chance. In their chance to grab the
2011 season by the balls and assert themselves as a contender, they did what they’ve done so many times before… fade away like a fart in the wind. It wasn’t even a loud, thunderous fart. It was more like a silent “I better let this one out nice and easy because I’m in church” pft.
Asdrubal Cabrera, the MVP of the Indians all year long and the catalyst for more than his fair share of victories, was noticeably absent. Fausto Carmona, he decided to not be absent (everyone wishes he was). Ubaldo Jimenez, the prized trade deadline acquisition, lost to Doug Fister. Yes, you read that right. The rest of the Indians? They did what they did all year long; flail away at pitches, score just enough runs to lose, and infuriate everyone.
We’ve seen this dog and pony show before. Shall I refresh your memory? Yes, I shall.
In 2005, the Indians were in the thick of things up until the final week of the season, or if you want to be more specific, until Grady Sizemore lost a flyball in the sun on a Sunday afternoon in Kansas City. The Indians would play like crap that following week (losing 6 of 7). be swept by Chicago sealing their doom and allow Ozzie Guillen to give the choke gesture to fans at Jacobs Field.
In 2006, the Indians had high expectations coming off of what was a great 2005. Their offseason acquisitions, highlighted by Todd Hollandsworth, sucked. They traded Brandon Phillips in April before he could show what he would eventually become. Surprisingly, they finished with an awesome record of 78-84, good enough for fourth place, 18 games back of the Twins.
In 2007, now that any and all pressure was off, the Indians would defy expectations and win the Central by 8 games over the Tigers. Of course, pressure and expectations reared its ugly head once again and the Indians would choke away a 3-1 ALCS lead to the Red Sox who would go on to sweep the Rockies. Wonderful.
In 2008, with expectations high once again, the Indians copied their 2006 performance in terms of disappointment and frustration. They’d never hit their stride and finish 81-81. That’s when the fire sales began and that brings us to where we find ourselves today.
Without any expectations on them, the Indians got off to a great start to the season. They had the best record in baseball, they were knocking the cover off of the baseball, and no one could touch their pitching. Then pressure made an appearance sometime in late May when the Indians were declared the real deal. They immediately began to tank, culminating with the sweep by Detroit.
When I left for Canada they were 3 games out. When I came back they were 12 out.
Pressure… It’s a bitch.
When the Indians take a look back at the 2011 season and their roster moving forward, they’ll pull out their stat sheets and do all of their
fancy analytic saber metric calculations. They’ll give us a whole thesis on wins above replacement, defense independent of pitching, batting averages on the third Tuesday of the month, during games played at night, on real grass, with a 2-1 count, and everything else you can possibly imagine. The masses will reply with a collective, “huh?”
Instead of fancy robot speak and numbers, the Indians should use the time-tested and well proven eye test. Which players on this team are clutch and which aren’t? It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. Instead of filling holes with bargain bin cast offs, has beens, and never were’s, they should go out and get players that can make a legit difference. They should go after players in their primes or go after the types of players that teams typically pilfer from us. This team is young, has some legit talent on it, and is a few legit pieces away from making a big splash in 2012. It’s the main reason why the trade deadline was such a failure. They failed to get that guy(s).
So with this season coming to a close, the Indians can view it as a successful season. For the most part it was. They exceeded expectations and competed for a division well into the dog days of summer. Myself and plenty others will see it that way too. However, it was also an opportunity lost. I hope they see it that way as well. I also hope they see it as the first in a long line of opportunities to come.
Let’s just hope the front office can handle the pressure of those expectations.