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The Indians are Cleveland’s last hope (again)

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The Browns and Cavs sold out for stability, while the Indians found it organically.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

It’s been a rough day for Cleveland sports.

While the Indians sat frustrated at home watching the Red Sox claim a trophy that felt like it could have been theirs, the Cavaliers and Browns both seem to be spiraling the drain with Ty Lue and Hue Jackson both being let go over the span of 24 hours.

Why both franchises are struggling makes a lot of sense — the Cavaliers the best player ever to touch a basketball in LeBron James, and the Browns are, as always, the Browns.

The Browns did receive a sudden jolt of energy in Baker Mayfield taking the NFL by storm, but the rest of the team’s total incompetence has cost them a bit of the spotlight, and a whole lot of enthusiasm from the national media. Meanwhile, the Cavs are an abysmal 0-6 — the only winless team in the budding NBA season. Winning it all in 2016 did a lot to alleviate Cleveland as the sports world’s punching bag, but without the Indians holding out as a competent organization, we’d be right back to square one.

You could make the argument that the Browns have improved in firing Jackson, but the problems always run deeper than the head coach, and that franchise has as many problems as it has ever had, even with Baker Mayfield. And with the Cavs halfheartedly “going for it” this year and not committing to a full rebuild, you can expect a rough couple years as they too try to rebound from the Second Era of LeBron.

That leaves the Indians — who have three straight American League Central Division titles, arguably the best starting rotation in baseball, the best shortstop in baseball — as the last great team standing in Cleveland.

I don’t mean to beat a dead horse as I’ve said this multiple times in the past, but it’s once again extremely clear: The Indians are the best-run team in Cleveland. And much like the late-90s where the Browns didn’t exist and the Cavs were consistently getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs, the Indians are keeping the reputation of Cleveland sports above water.

Through Chris Antonetti, Mike Chernoff, and Terry Francona, the Tribe have found the kind of stability that major sports franchises lose sleep trying to acquire. Where the Cavs sold their soul to build everything about LeBron James and take a few shots at a championship, they never really had a chance without him. In a similar sense, the Browns held on to Hue Jackson for a year and a half longer than they should have just for stability’s sake. Not because he’s a great leader like Terry Francona, but because they didn’t want to be seen cycling through coaches yet again, even after a 1-15 season followed by a somehow worse 0-16 campaign. At least from the outside looking it, it was a bald faced attempt at looking like a well-run organization, when in fact everything was a disastrous as it has always been.

Only the Indians have managed real stability — from the top of the organization down — over the past several seasons. Even before this current run of success, it’s not hard to see the tangible improvements the front office was making to the farm system and the major-league talent pool.

Under Francona, since he became the manager prior to the 2013 season, the Indians have not had a single losing season, and they’ve gone to the playoffs in four of his six seasons at the helm, with most of those teams being carried by homegrown players (Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Jason Kipnis) or those acquired for way under their market value as prospects (Yan Gomes, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Carlos Santana).

The same restraint the front office showed in not pulling the trigger for Bryce Harper when the asking price was Shane Bieber — and, let’s not kid ourselves here, probably more — is the kind of thinking that has them as a winning team for so long. It’s unfortunate, and frustrating, that they are now stuck in the “get over the hump” holding pattern that so many teams find themselves in at their peak, but it’s the reason they’ll be the only good team in Cleveland for several years going forward. The Browns can get there with Baker and a whole hell of a lot of smart front office decisions, but there is plenty of time for the Indians to show themselves to Cleveland and the world in 2019, 2020, and beyond. If only everyone will listen.

This isn’t some call to rally around Francona or the front office, and only have happy thoughts about the Indians. Lord knows I was annoyed this season and it became hard to watch them steamroll a bad division knowing only the playoffs matter — only to have them blow it emphatically. Just consider this your annual reminder to hug your competent Indians organization closely.