The sun sets on Cleveland on a Friday in the middle of June. The crowd huddled inside of Progressive Field begins to chafe under the oppressive mediocrity of the home team, who is losing by two to the Twins in the 6th inning. If it were just this game, the crowd could handle it, but no — this would represent a fifth consecutive loss for the Indians. And haven’t they been disappointing this season? Leading the AL Central by only three games? What an absolute travesty. They’re supposed to run away with the division! They’re bound for the World Series! How is it that they just never seem to be able to get more than six games above .500?
Picture this, and then take a deep breath. It’s fine. Yes, this scene is going to occur. If not in the stadium, then in a long string of flagged posts in the Game Thread. A prominent member will be banned for sock puppeting. Matt Lyons will finally use the Headline 1 font. Someone will compare Terry Francona to Quinctilius Varus.
None of this will change the fact that the Indians will be a very good team. They will still be likely to make the playoffs. Here are a few things to remind yourself when it feels like all is lost and the Indians should trade Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez to the Yankees for a three pizzas and an NBC tour.
A long winning streak is almost certain to occur
In 2016, the Indians rattled off 14 consecutive wins, culminating in an epic 19-inning battle with the Toronto Blue Jays. This vaulted them to a record of 49-30 and a seven-game lead in the division. They never looked back after this, and cruised to a 94-win season, and then the World Series.
In 2017, the Indians set the American League (and arguably MLB) record with 22 straight wins. At the beginning of this streak, the Indians looked safe with a 5.5 game lead over the Twins, but the unprecedented run buried the rest of the division and launched the Tribe to its first 100-win season since 1995. Keep in mind, this is a season in which everyone expected a shot at 100 wins, so hands wrung themselves raw on July 19th, when the team “fell” to 48-45. Matt Lyons responded with a post saying that the real time to panic is when a winning streak can’t salvage a season.
And as we know, the mid-to-late summer treats the Tribe quite well.
This is now a veteran team with several stars in contract years
The roster of the Indians is stacked with returning stars. With the exception of Carlos Santana, virtually every starter returns in the field and on the mound. The only real question mark is in the outfield, and the odds of it being worse than last seasons are particularly low with the plausible health of Michael Brantley and the potential from improvement from Bradley Zimmer and Tyler Naquin.
Even more so than last year, we can expect this team to show resiliency. That;s not only because it’s clear that they want to bring the Comissioner’s trophy to Cleveland. Michael Brantley, Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Josh Tomlin, Lonnie Chisenhall, and probably Brandon Guyer are all either in contract years or playing for a shot at an option. I exclude Carlos Carrasco’s option because the thought of the Indians turning down a $9M team option for 2019 is absurd.
For hitters, there is research documenting the “contract year boost”. In a 2014 article published in the SABR journal, Heather M. O’Neill found that, “[T]he adjusted OPS of a free agent hitter in his contract year is expected to be 6.7 percent greater than in non-contract year periods.” The data is noisier and more inconclusive for pitchers. However, I don’t expect any significant decline from either Allen or Miller, who have been among the most dominant and consistent relievers in the game for the last three seasons. Given the kind of money teams are throwing to elite relief pitchers at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them push hard to earn contracts large enough to buy Micronesia.
Francisco Lindor got jacked
Francisco Lindor said he didn't change his winter routine much. Came into camp at 190 pounds. On looking bigger: "It has to do with age. I did the exact same thing I do every offseason. I work as hard as I can to get bigger, get stronger and become the best player I can be." pic.twitter.com/dRy7LqJRQk— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 19, 2018
I don’t know about you, but I see 40 home runs and 40 doubles in those bicepses (yes, biceps is singular).
For crying out loud, the season is 162 games long
That’s part of the fun of the game. Seriously. As awful as the cliche “every team wins 50 games and loses 50 games” is, it’s true. Dealing with a string of tough games is one of the things that makes being a baseball fan — even of a very good team — unique. Can you imagine Ohio State Football fans dealing with a four-game losing streak? I’m not sure the stadium would still be there.
Consider the epic game against the Red Sox last year, in which Austin Jackson made his famous flip-over-the-wall catch, the lead switched about eleven times, and Christian Vazquez of all people ended it with a walk-off home run. It stung that night, and a little bit into the next week. By now, I can recognize it as an incredible game. A lesser team might have let it break their backs for a few games. The Indians immediately bounced back with consecutive wins over the Yankees, and nine out of the next thirteen.
They also exacted revenge on August 22nd, with a glorious walk-off bunt. Yes, I understand that it was technically an error, but I refuse to let technicalities get in the way of a good story.
So, when you find yourself showering Jobu with rum and pulling your hair out in June, please refer back to this guide. Everything is going to be okay. And hell, at least we aren’t the Padres.