CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – The expectation for the 2017 Cleveland Indians was vastly higher than that of the 2016 version. The timeline was much shorter.
When things came down to Game 7 in the 2016 World Series, the Indians staff and players knew that when the game ended, regardless of outcome, there would be no more baseball. In 2017, more baseball was ripped away from them.
Manager Terry Francona said that was one of the main reasons that the disappointment of this season surpassed that of last year.
“This year, I know it’s hard for people to understand, the season doesn’t wind down—it just comes to a crashing halt,” he said. “You come into your office one day and you’re going 100 miles an hour. Next day, you come in and it’s over and it’s hard to accept, especially when you don’t want it to be over. You want it to be over on your terms and it didn’t happen that way this year.”
The means by which things ended also weighed heavily on Francona’s mind, as much of the team’s worst baseball all season came in a time when it counted most. The Indians’ seven errors in the final two games of the ALDS made things impossible for them to advance, yet they still came close.
“I felt like we were positioned to do some damage and you know some of the damage was self-inflicted. We hadn’t played like that so there were a number of things that went wrong and we still competed like crazy and think that’s something our guys do a good job of,” he added. “But we didn’t play our best baseball and so you have to go into off-season knowing that and it is really hard.”
It was not just the defense that faltered either. The potent Indians offense struggled to a .171/.263/.287 slash in the ALDS with a .550 OPS. The Yankees built their playoff roster around their league-best bullpen, but those marks still did not sit well with Francona.
“I don’t think anybody should be able to do that against us,” he said. “We just, for whatever reason, we didn’t put our best foot forward all the time.”
Even with everything that went wrong, the outcome of the series may have been different had the one seemingly sure thing was as sure as everyone thought. Corey Kluber lasted just 6 1/3 innings in two starts, allowing 9 earned on 10 hits and walking 3.
If Didi Gregorius did not hit one of his home runs off of the presumed AL Cy Young winner, the game is completely different. If Kluber lasts longer in Game 2, Josh Tomlin never pitches and saves Trevor Bauer from short rest in Game 4.
Those things happened, and the Yankees took the last two games.
“It’s too easy when you lose to say, ‘We could have done this.’ Even myself, I get it,” Francona said. “But we had Kluber, who was virtually unhittable. We had him on two starts on normal rest, and it didn’t go very well. It’s going to be hard to win a series when that happens.”
Francona dispelled the idea that he had hinted at Kluber’s back being an issue directly when he said after Game 2 that the righty’s mechanics changed or when he said Kluber was ‘battling a lot of things’ after Game 5.
The manager did admit that Kluber’s arm slot was lowering late in the year. When Kluber left his final start of the year against the Chicago White Sox, he joked that he did not want to get into bad habits. Yet he may have.
“When that happens, we all kind of stop and think, ‘OK. What’s going on here?’ But his bullpen was tremendous and he felt good going into the start,” Francona said. “His first inning, other than yanking a ball to Didi, he was really pretty good. And then you start noticing in the second he started to creep down a bit. I don’t think he even realized it. But we could tell.”