It gets hard sometimes to rectify baseball with modern culture. The season is so long, and you have to be so patient while it happens and appreciate the little things and meta-games and subtleties of it to really get it.
Much of the game can get lost in the intensity and speed of everyday life. Not that there’s no surface level of baseball appreciation, of course, we all love dingers. But there’s so much nothing amidst the action that’s so important, and the action isn’t as violent as football to make up for it, that the game can lose you. That’s also why when a team hits a swoon, or a player slumps, it gets blown all out of proportion.
When a first place team with the third most runs scored in the league scores all of four over four games, people lose their minds. It’s hard to process the season as a six-month marathon and not worry about what you’re seeing.
Really, how can we not get caught up in the moment?
Whether good or bad, the excitement of the event keeps us in the game. It’s hard to understand that baseball, despite being a professional sport, isn’t as built around the event. It’s built around the series, the stretch, it’s meant to be understood over the long haul. But when Tyler Naquin walks off theToronto Blue Jays, obviously the Cleveland Indians are the best team in the world, right? And now he’s the rookie of the year. That moment was awesome. But that doesn’t matter now, all that matters is the win. And really, all that mattered was the series win. These electrifying snapshots are great to reflect on, great to GIF and marvel at, but whether win or lose, they’re such a small part of a massive tapestry.
The curse of the 24-hour sports network and Twitter and even blogs like this one, we demand reaction no matter what happens, especially when things go bad. Baseball hates that, though. In fact, refutes it, it punishes reaction. You can’t change things at the drop of a hat when you have an off game. A player that does that finds themselves flailing at air constantly.
A stretch of three games where the team doesn’t score happens. But the team can't care about that, not too much anyway. That’s the value of Terry Francona on the Tribe. One of his talents as a manager is keeping players on an even keel. That’s why when people ask about benching Bryan Shaw back in June, or Josh Tomlin now, he practically spits at it. This mentality kind of bit him in the butt when the Boston Red Sox collapsed a few years back, but generally, it’s the right way to approach baseball. Understanding that one game can’t be a judgement on a season, despite the critics’ ratings, makes for a great manager.
Trying hard is rarely enough to earn you a win in baseball
Baseball is mean in that you can’t try hard to succeed, either. It takes effort, sure. It’s typically considered the most difficult sport to play because of the finesse of it all. But you can’t overcome that by pure energy like in basketball or football. Effort, in many ways, works against the team trying so hard.
A team could win a few games by pure effort alone, by pouring their heart and soul into every at-bat and every effort, but baseball punishes that. It’s almost counter-intuitive, counter-American even. There’s a work ethic in America where we are supposed to work our hardest to achieve our goals, but I think baseball disagrees with that. With this game, it’s about working for the end goal, for understanding that the long run is what matters. It will burn you out if you go full bore every inning.
By trying hard, you will burn out. A losing streak can push a team to ends that it normally wouldn’t in this respect, and again, I appreciate the presence of Terry Francona.
No matter what happens in any given inning, day, week: The Indians are in a good spot for September
The Indians are in a great position facing any downswing, though. As we saw last night in Texas with Corey Kluber, pitching will control your future. Moreso than a booming offense, which can go stale at a moment’s notice. A pitcher can go poorly, have a poor run for a few starts. We saw it out of Kluber to start the year, and Tomlin now. But the rest of the rotation picked him up. But bats can all go silent simultaneously, just like they can get contagiously amazing. But pitching lends consistency. It gives the team a trend line upward. Check out this graph I found on Reddit:
Credit to r/n4rcotix for the graph. These things are neat every week. This is from the 22nd, so it's a little different.
This his graph shows what I like about the Indians' pitching. They weren't in the lead early, but they kept grinding forward, winning more than they lost and got on a quick streak to elevate. This is what the pitching does, and this is what streaks, swoons and slumps look like. This is baseball.
The point of all this is, the swoon, the slump, it’s as much a part of baseball as the good stuff. We all knew the Indians weren’t going to stay eight or 10 games in front of the second place team, and it’s totally terrible when they drop a few to a terrible team. But in the A’s case, in particular, that’s a purpose-built team for that park. But these things happen. They happen every year, to every player and team.
The San Francisco Giants were firmly in first place till just a couple days ago, and you’d be a fool to think they won’t see October. The Indians have to keep playing, but they’re still a great team, they’re still going to go two steps forward for every step back if only because of their pitching, and they’re going to keep winning. The grind is what baseball is, not the moment. The Indians grind. That's why they're good, that's why they succeed.