2006 is the most excited I have ever been for a baseball season to begin, after coming oh so close in 2005 with a team of young stars on the rise it felt like winning the division in ‘06 was inevitable. Sure trading Coco Crisp and replacing him with something called Jason Michaels wasn’t ideal but Grady, Pronk, Victor and co. would surely be enough to carry the offense. Yeah Kevin Millwood was hugely important to the team despite the lack of run support he was given but we had one of the best bullpens in the league! Plus Jake Westbrook was due for a bounceback, C.C. was still C.C. and Cliff Lee was coming off of a 4th place finish in the Cy Young voting. Add a young phenom in former top 10 draft pick Jeremy Sowers into that mix and to quote Carl Weathers “Baby, you got a stew goin.”
Who could’ve predicted that the bullpen would regress so drastically, or that Jhonny Peralta would play barely above replacement level in 2006 after a 5 WAR season that saw him hit 24 home runs and hit nearly .300 in 2005. That’d be insane! Yet, it’s what happened.
I don’t have a ton to say about this season because it was just this blob of “ugh” day in and day out. Juggling injuries and poor performance in the rotation. Watching Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore do their best Superman imitations, willing our offense to keep us in games while it felt like our bullpen could face a team of little leaguers and still find a way to blow the lead. Despite all of that, Pythagoras suggests that we should’ve been a respectable 89-73 instead of the 78-84 record we posted. Sure that still wouldn’t have been enough to make the playoffs, we’d still have been 5 games behind Detroit for the lone wildcard spot available in those days, but who knows, had we played better early on maybe we would’ve been buyers at the deadline and gotten a piece to shore up our dreadful bullpen, putting us in a position to make a run. Regardless, it’s all “what if” with this team.
Things started great as they raced off to a 6-1 start, and it felt as if the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs would just be a formality. A minor annoyance to overcome on our way to a sure-fire world series win. Unfortunately, a 40-47 record at the all star break left us firmly out of contention. They were 18-26 in one run games, and 33-20 in games decided by more than 5 runs. Their offense was good enough to keep them in a lot of games, but they just couldn’t overcome that terrible bullpen.
The Indians missed out on a number of free agents that offseason, getting stuck with the leftovers and paid dearly for it. The 2005 team was one or two pieces away from dominance, signing a bona fide veteran starter, or one more supplemental outfielder to pair with a bullpen arm could’ve really put them over the top. But I digress.
2006 was a major disappointment for me. Sure they were bad in 02 and 03 but I didn’t have expectations of either of those teams. They weren’t great for most of ‘04 either but that team was such a pleasant surprise that I didn’t care that much when we fell short of winning the division. To come so close in ‘05 only to completely lay an egg in ‘06 felt like a punch to the gut. I was crushed.
The good news is I wouldn’t have to wait long for them to turn things around, but more on that tomorrow.