Now that the dust has settled and emotions are mostly in check, it’s time to admit something that seems kind of backwards given how far into the postseason the Cleveland Indians went: Paul Hoynes wasn’t all that wrong to declare the Tribe dead after Carlos Carrasco broke his hand in September.
Now, before you start a petition for me to jump into a cold lake if the Indians win the World Series next season or this post gets so much backlash that it turns into a positive sea of clicks (actually, do that one please), let’s take a step back.
Cleveland.com ran its now infamous article titled “Sept. 17: The day Cleveland Indians’ postseason dreams ended before they began” at a turning point for the Tribe. As Hoynes noted in his piece, the Indians — who were destined to win the American League Central in the coming weeks — lost their No. 3 pitcher Danny Salazar’s ability to start a game for the entire postseason on September 9, and less than two weeks later Carlos Carrasco took a comebacker off his throwing hand, ending his season.
Someone with Hoynes’s influence and familiarity with the game of baseball probably should not have wrote what he wrote on arguably the cities largest news source. But was he totally wrong in thinking that the Indians were dead in the water when Carrasco went down and word trickled out that he had a fractured hand? Not really.
To that point, Carrasco was great for the Tribe, carrying a 3.32 ERA and a 3.72 FIP in 25 starts as the team’s “other ace”. His late-season hand injury overshadows his previous troubles, but he also missed the better part of two months with a strained hamstring early in the season, and he did come back as the same pitcher right away.
Carrasco started the season on fire, but when he awkwardly stepped on first base against the Detroit Tigers on April 24, he was out until June 2.
Upon his return, he allowed two or more runs in four-straight starts; 11 total runs off of 19 hits in that span. His season was anything but smooth from the onset, but even with a bad start here and there after his return, he turned in a season only marginally worse than his previous two.
Losing him was a huge deal. I do not agree with Hoynes stating his opinion of the Indians’ doom as fact on a site with such a huge reach, but I do not fault him — or anyone else — with thinking the Indians’ season was over at that point.
Even with a below-average season (by his own standards), Carrasco was still capable of turning in a vintage performance any given night. Like when he struck out 11 Miami Marlins batters on September 2, or shutout the Oakland Athletics over eight innings on August 22. Carrasco had one too many clunkers in 2016 to call his season great, but he still posted the second-lowest earned run average of his career.
It’s easy to look back now and say the Indians were fine with Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin pitching behind Kluber, but do not pretend like you were feeling totally confident down the stretch. To that point we did not know just how resilient this Indians team was. We did not know that Andrew Miller would absolutely dominate the postseason, or that Corey Kluber would look like a perennial Cy Young winner in all but one postseason start while consistently pitching on short rest.
Reactions to Carrasco’s injury were not necessarily positive, as you may expect. In fact, a lot of them looked like Hoynes’s own reaction, just in a more appropriate place. It wasn’t until Cleveland.com ran the piece that Indians fans got a bit more angry about anyone calling the postseason run dead on arrival.
Indians fans will never truly know what could have happened in the playoffs, in the World Series, if the Tribe had Carrasco as its No. 2 starter, let alone Danny Salazar as the No. 3 starter and a healthy Michael Brantley batting every day. Hopefully we’ll find out next year.