First and foremost, my apologies for the little unannounced break in the action here over the last couple of days. Between my 8 month old son at home, the 18 credits I’m taking this semester, studying for the LSAT, and tending to my day job the days unfortunately got away from me. But we’re back and should be able to carry this thing across the finish line at the normal cadence! There are around 12 days til games start and about 10 more entries, this should, if my math is correct, take us right up to “opening day” of spring training games, and then there’ll be real baseball to talk about and speculate on, rather than merely taking trips down memory lane to drown out the relative lack of activity this offseason.
I also did want to mention that I will be posting a “story” entry at the very end of this with the link to each entry so you can reread at your leisure. I’d recommend “bookmarking” it if you intend to do so as stuff has a habit of getting buried here.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, 2013.
This is a season where I couldn’t possibly set out to cover every storyline, every major move, or all the various ebbs and flows as there were just far too many to include in one article, so we’re going to approach this from more of a 10,000 foot view, but I would sincerely appreciate any comments below that can add some color through personal memories and experiences, thoughts or hot takes on this team, etc.
Any discussion of the 2013 Indians must begin with the hiring of Terry “Tito” Francona to replace Manny Acta (technically he replaced interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. but that’s neither here nor there). Tito is synonymous with the last 10 years of baseball in Cleveland and regardless of your opinions on the impact a manager can have or how good you think he was at his job there is an undeniable truth about his tenure in Cleveland. The return to winning baseball coincided with the years that we had Terry Francona in the dugout, infer from that what you wish.
The arrival of Tito was paired, quite nicely, with a flurry of offseason moves that were very exciting, at least at the time. We signed big time free agents Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, and though it’s hard to argue that their tenure in Cleveland was anything less than a disappointment, they represented big moves, some legitimate experience and name recognition, and 3 All Star appearances between the two of them. In addition to Swish and Bourn, the Indians also signed Mark Reynolds, otherwise known as Right handed Russell Branyan. They also made a quiet move that would pay big dividends when they invited former All Star pitcher Scott Kazmir who had pitched a combined 1.2 innings over the previous 2 seasons and was looking to revive his once promising career.
Signing Swisher and Bourn and taking a chance on a guy like Reynolds would certainly indicate moves being made to try and contend, yet Cleveland traded away arguably their best player in Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds in a 3 team trade that netted them Trevor Bauer, Drew Stubbs, and Bryan Shaw. Bauer was the centerpiece of the deal but wouldn’t make much of an impact in Cleveland until later. Stubbs served as a mediocre right fielder for much of the season, while Shaw immediately became a fixture in the Cleveland Bullpen.
There have been very few instances where I’ve been so excited for opening day, and the season lived up to the hype! Justin Masterson came into his own as a legitimate front of the rotation pitcher and made an All Star appearance. Ubaldo Jimenez actually had a very productive year despite a dreadful 2012. He was no longer the overpowering flamethrower he had been in Colorado, but nevertheless he was effective, especially down the stretch. Corey Kluber established himself as a regular in the rotation, Jason Kipnis took a huge step in his development, becoming a fan favorite and joining Masterson at the All Star game in the process.
The Indians stumbled to an 8-13 record out of the gate, but then things started to click. They rattled off a 10-2 stretch to pull to within a game of first place. From there they played roughly .500 baseball until the All Star Break, but that’s when things really took off. There has always been a narrative about Tito Francona that his teams are all “second half teams” and, well, that’s hard to argue when you look at his track record in the second half of seasons during his time in Cleveland. The Indians caught fire in the second half, particularly in September when it mattered most playing to a 41-26 mark after the break, including a 10 game win streak to close out the year.
After their hot stretch they clinched the top Wild Card spot in the first year of the new 1 game playoff format. Rookie Danny Salazar who had been dominant in his short tenure in the big leagues to that point looked to do his best Jaret Wright impersonation and carry a team to the world series as a rookie. Unfortunately he couldn’t quite get it done, he allowed 3 earned runs in 4 innings which was more than enough for Tampa as Alex Cobb and the Tampa Bay bullpen shutout the Indians despite giving up 9 hits.
The 2013 season definitely ended in disappointment but it really felt like we were poised to take another leap. A full season of Salazar, a healthy Justin Masterson, young stars like Kipnis and Yan Gomes, it looked like the Indians were ready to take that next step towards a serious run at a world series in the next couple of years. Unfortunately it would take until 2016 to make that a reality, but much of the groundwork for those teams was laid during the 2013-2015 stretch.
Join us tomorrow as we discuss the disappointing 2014 season.
Also consider this my mention of the 2 Jason Giambi walk offs to avoid the obligatory “what no mention of the 2 Jason Giambi Walk Offs?” comment :)