LeBron is gone, the Blue Jackets technically aren’t Cleveland, and the Browns are... the Browns.
There may be a smidgen of hope in the Browns if you believe in Baker Mayfield, but for the most part, the sports happiness of an entire city rests on the bats, beards, and gloves of the Cleveland Indians. The sooner fans realize that, and the sooner local media realizes that, the sooner everyone can rally together behind the city’s last great team.
Make no mistake about it, no matter what the Cavs intend to do over the next year or two, they are not going to be LeBron-level again anytime soon. Dan Gilbert can attempt a rebuild around Kevin Love and Colin Sexton if he really wants, but the team is not sniffing the playoffs, let alone the NBA Finals, without a major rebuild. For a city that was used to nothing but winning right up until the Finals in year’s prior, it’ll be a rough transition, and it’s going to take time. Meanwhile, Cleveland will be expecting more.
That’s where the Indians come in. They are built for this.
They have weaknesses like any other baseball team, but the Indians’ strengths are flat-out some of the best in the league. Their left-side combination of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez is undoubtedly the best in the league and may go down as one of the best in franchise history. Looking just at this season, Ramirez sits third in wRC+ at 174 and and Lindor isn’t far behind at sixth with a wRC+ of 158. But that includes everything — those boring singles, doubles and occasionally interesting triples.
What about the dinggerrrrsss?
They’re crushing those too. No two teammates have more than their 47 combined at roughly the half-way point of the season. Get out of here with your Aaron Judges and Giancarlo Stantons, Lindor and Ramirez are the big bruisers of the league now, and they both play defense like wizards.
In the absence of LeBron James, Lindor is the perfect object of affection for Cleveland (and general baseball fans, while we’re at it). He oozes personality and flair just as much as he hits dingers and kicks off double plays. Turn to Twitter any random night, and you’ll see a beat reporter with pictures of him signing an autograph for kids and creating more life-long fans. Don’t forget everything LeBron James has done — and continues to do — for the city of Cleveland, but you don’t have to wait for him to sign a one-day contract and retire a Cavalier to love another Cleveland athlete. That athlete is already here: he plays shortstop and has a heck of a smile.
Elsewhere on the field, the Indians have Michael Brantley to fill out one of the best top-thirds of any lineup in the league, Yan Gomes back to hitting like a real baseball player, Yonder Alonso occasionally going off on streaks of greatness, and Edwin Encarnacion finding his power at the spry age of 35. Even Jason Kipnis — the most Indians player to ever Indians — is finally finding his offense again lately.
The starting pitching staff is only following up one of the best years in history with four pitchers you would easily trust in a big playoff game — Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger. A fifth may be emerging before our very eyes in Shane Bieber, who through four starts has allowed six earned runs in 24.1 innings.
Best of all, almost every single player listed to this point is under contract through at least 2020. Lindor, Ramirez, and Gomes are all here through 2021 — the former will begin arbitration next season and the latter two are on team-friendly deals for the remainder of their contracts. Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, and Jason Kipnis all have deals through at least 2020 with options. Corey Kluber is signed through 2021 as well, while Carrasco’s extremely favorable contracts runs out of options following 2020. Trevor Bauer has two more years of arbitration, Mike Clevinger doesn’t even begin arbitration until 2020, and Shane Bieber is still under team control.
All of this is to say the same thing I’ve said for years and I plan to keep saying it until it’s no longer true: The Indians are a phenomenally run baseball team. What Chris Antonetti, Mike Chernoff, and the last remenants of Mark Shapiro have done for this team cannot be overstated. Two consecutive playoff runs (with eyes on a third), an American League Pennant, and a farm system that still remains in-tact with talent waiting to help out as the next core group of winners. Of course, with prospects you never know who will pan out, but making it to two (probably three) consecutive playing runs and still having any kind of farm system is uber impressive in today’s game and with Cleveland’s assumed budget.
Despite all this, the national media doesn’t seem to care. To most, Cleveland has reverted to a football town, where everyone is miserable about the Browns and conveniently ignore the winners at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. The epitome of this was Adam Schefter’s Tweet which will go in the Cold Take Hall of Fame before the world ends:
And so now, Cleveland’s hopes rest with the Browns.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 2, 2018
I get it, Schefter covers the NFL and the Browns being Cleveland’s savior is better for his bottom line. The sad part is, Schefter and everyone else lamenting the loss of James as the re-emergence of the Browns and only the Browns in the Cleveland spotlight isn’t completely false. It’s all local radio shows will talk about; any failures of the Browns will be quickly attributed to the city as a whole and the cycle starts over again. But screw that, it doesn’t have to happen.
Quit placing your trust in the Browns and break out of the cycle of sadness that was Cleveland sports prior to 2015. We don’t have to hope for another Derek Anderson miracle 10-6 season, we have a legitimately great team — from top to bottom, for now and into the future — making run after run with a real shot at winning it all.
Get behind them.