CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – The time for “it’s still early” has passed, and while too much worry about the 2017 Cleveland Indians may be misguided, one-third into the season, the defending American League Champions know they need to kick things into a higher gear.
Manager Terry Francona admitted that he had held more meetings since the end of the team’s 1-4 road trip than he has had ‘in years,’ between the coaching staff, position groups and individuals.
That is not to say that the meetings were fiery and critical, rather an aide-mémoire to what the team has built, and the goals remaining. Francona said the team has been ‘extremely inconsistent’ in the early goings, but the recent past has been too much of a building block to let fall by the wayside.
“That group in there has done such a good job of turning this place around where, Cleveland is a pretty good place to play baseball,” the skipper said. “We need to fight to continue that and take it even further. So reminders, I think are OK. I don’t ever want to talk to them to the point where they stop listening because that doesn’t help anybody. But when you feel strongly enough about something, it needs to be said.”
The World Series-winning Manager was self-aware in his criticism. He told his players that decisions like intentionally walking former Indians farmhand Tony Wolters before a 3-RBI double from pitcher Antonio Senzatela Tuesday in Colorado still bother him.
“Those things keep me up at night,” Francona said. “I also don’t apologize for– our priority has to be playing winning baseball, that’s why we’re here.”
For a team fresh off of the most successful season in just about all of their individual careers, the frustrations have mounted in what Francona called a “frustrating game.” He again took the blame.
“We tell our guys all the time, your season is largely defined by how you handle frustration,” Francona added. “I think to this point we haven’t done a good enough job, and that’s on me. That’s not pointing fingers at the players. That’s on myself. I need to do a better job of maybe communicating things to the players.”
It has been noted since the start of the campaign that not many in the AL Central are set to compete this season, and the idea has been all along that the Indians would walk back into the playoffs. At 29-28, the Indians sat just 1 ½ games out of the division lead entering Friday, despite not playing to their capabilities by all accounts.
The manager said he had made a note of the goings on in the division when speaking to his guys, but implored them that the luxury would not last.
“I do think in our game, normally, a team will step up and separate themselves as you go. We need that to be us,” he said. “On one hand, we’re very fortunate that somebody hasn’t run away and hid. But, I don’t think it’s real healthy to look up every day and think, ‘Well, the other teams lost.’ I’m glad they did, but at some point, we need to pick up the pace.”
What remains is the 105 games in front of them, and the manager has set the last five contests and the 52 prior, in the past.
“That’s why you never hear me say ‘the road trip’ or ‘the series.’ What ultimately matters is what our record is,” Francona said. “I don’t like getting caught up in whether we were 5-1 on a trip or 1-5 because I think you run the risk of having too many ups and downs emotionally. (It is a) hard enough game at times, so we don’t try to do that. But we fall to what our record is because that’s why we play.”