The Indians were just swept in a four-game series at home against one of the worst teams in the American League. The reality is, the Indians are one of the worst teams in the American League. That isn't what was expected of them by most, as they were a trendy pick to contend for the AL Central crown and make the postseason either by winning the division of grabbing one of the two Wild Card spots. Projection systems such as PECOTA saw the American League as very bunched together, but also had the Indians in strong contention for a postseason spot. PECOTA now has the Indians with only a 5.2% chance of making the postseason, and even that feels generous at the moment.
Following yesterday's game, the team held another meeting, and when Jason Kipnis spoke with media afterwards, he had a lot to say:
"We've been playing like shit. There's no way around it. It's embarrassing. There's no fight. [We're] giving up early. We've got people worrying about their own things. Nobody is held accountable. It's just not the way we're going to do business here. So, we held a team meeting today to rein the guys back in, get us back to where we need to be, get our heads straight, get our heads out of our butts and start playing like a better baseball team."
The line that jumps out at me:
"Nobody is held accountable."
Those four words might sound innocent, but to me they're the most damning thing that was said. They speak to a team that has lost its way, lost its focus and determination; they speak to a rudderless ship, adrift in a 162-game sea.
If that's the case, who is to blame?
In my experience, no criticism hits close to home like criticism from one's peers. Without naming names, Kipnis has called out the other guys on the team, and he's in something of a unique position to do that, because he has been by far the team's best player this season, the one guy whose production this year can't really be criticized. (That isn't to say everyone else on the team is having a bad year, but a lot of the frustration surrounding the team has to do with their failure to meet perceived expectations, and Kipnis is the one guy wildly exceeding expectations.)
I don't think Kipnis would exclude himself from responsibility either though. I think him saying what he did is also an acknowledgement that he's supposed to be a leader on this team, not only because he's the best player this year, but because while it's only been four years since he made his MLB debut, he's already become something of an elder statesman, with only Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana really having spent more time on the team.
Players play, and if I were tasked with portioning out the blame for this season not going as planned, I'd give them the lion's share. Still though, teams have managers, and the manager's responsibilities extend beyond when to go to the bullpen and deciding whether or not to call for a bunt. (Topics for another day.) If this ship really is adrift, Terry Francona is failing at his job.
He knows that:
"I'm responsible for that. It has not been going the way I want it to. That'll change, or I'll probably die trying."
Death seems a little severe, but if a team can't be bothered to give its best, one manager is a lot more easily replaced than 25 players.
What I find frustrating is, even if it changes today and the team really does start playing with more fight, even if they refuse to give up when they fall behind early, even if everyone puts their own things aside and focuses on the team, even if people are held accountable when their focus and effort aren't at 100%, even if everyone pulls their head out of their butt and they start playing like a better baseball team, it's probably too late.
It's likely going to take something like 88 wins to grab a spot in the Wild Card Game. To get to 88 wins, the Indians would need to go 43-22 the rest of the way. The only MLB team that's had a stretch of baseball that good all season is the St. Louis Cardinals. The Indians don't need to just start playing like a better baseball team if they're going to salvage the season, they need to start playing like the very best.
If they play better but fall short, they'll have to live with wondering why they waited so long to get their act together. If they don't play better at all, they'll have to face the possibility that this group won't get another chance together.