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Indians’ final week of 2019 was a strange, disappointing mess

No one wants to say a team gave up, but what exactly were the Indians doing the last week of the season?

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

When did you give up on this season?

At the end of May, when the team’s record dipped below .500, at 28-29, and it’s playoff odds hit the pre-September nadir of 26.8%? Or maybe after the 2-7 trip to the east coast, capped by a sweep at the hands of the Mets, in mid-August? Perhaps, like me, you held fast until the beginning of September, when Tampa Bay proved they were the better playoff team in a convincing three-game sweep?

Technically, the Indians playoff odds remained above zero until Sept. 26. But as of Sept. 24, with five games still remaining in the season, the team’s chances of making the playoffs were 43.9%. Meaning, a decent amount of hope should have been left for nearly every game.

FanGraphs AL Central playoff odds

It’s hateful to think the players gave up, but I’m having hard time accepting that the last week of the season was the Indians really trying to play baseball to the best of their ability.

There’s blame to share everywhere, and it starts well before the season bottomed out. Beginning with Jason Kipnis’s season-ending injury on Sept. 17, when the front office decided to call up Andrew Velazquez (.244/261/.378 at Triple-A) rather than giving top-prospect Nolan Jones (.253/.370/.466 at Double-A) a shot. There’s no way to say that Jones over Velazquez would have worked out as well as, say, calling Nico Hoerner up from Double-A did for the Cubs (.282/.305/.436), but down the stretch Velazquez batted 1-for-11 with one walk and one run. That kind of speaks for itself. If you need more numbers, though, Hoerner was worth 0.2 fWAR in 20 games for the Cubs and Velazquez was worth -0.3 fWAR in 15 games for the Tribe.

At the managerial level, Terry Francona gave Ryan Flaherty 25.5 innings and seven plate appearances in the final week. Mitchell Krall at WFNY wrote a good piece defending Flaherty, but the fact that a defense was even necessary raises questions. Mainly, why wouldn’t Francona want to learn more about what kind of player Yu Chang is? Everyone knows who Flaherty is: a 33-year-old utility guy who has kicked around the big leagues for parts of the last eight years without sticking. His 2019 numbers, .143/.143/.238, -0.3 fWAR, were somehow worse than his career numbers, .215/.284/.345, 0.9 fWAR (Flaherty has not had a season with positive WAR since 2016, which was worth 0.1 fWAR). Yu Chang was not great, his slashline was downright Flahertian at .178/.286/.274, -0.2 fWAR, but when you’re getting the same results, why not offer the playing time to a young and promising kid, to potentially give him some confidence, rather than trot out a never-was player to get beaten again?

Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the utility guys failing. In the final week, batters hit just .211/.281/.414 and pitchers allowed opponents to hit .301/.361/.498. If comparisons are your thing, the Indians in the last week hit like full-season Orlando Arcia (.223/.283/.350) and opponents hit like full-season Trea Turner (.298/.353/.497). Some of the worst performers were the players who carried the team most of the season. Oscar Mercado had just two hits and one walk in 26 plate appearances; Francisco Lindor had four hits and a sac fly in 29 plate appearances; and Carlos Santana had just and three free passes in 23 plate appearances. Likewise, on the pitching side, Adam Plutko’s deal with the devil ended and he allowed nine runs; Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber surrendered six and five, respectively; and Aaron Civale finally gave up more than three runs in a game, allowing four to the White Sox on the day the Tribe got eliminated.

So many of these individual players propped up the broken and bruised shell of the 2019 Indians just to give the team a single-digit chance of making the playoffs in the final week of the season. But what transpired over that final week was among the most dispiriting things to happen in all of this entire dispiriting season. I’m loathe to say the team gave up, but by the numbers and by the eye test — watching those last few games was brutal — there is not much to contradict that idea.

I hope the fishing is good and the golf is relaxing, at least.