Ah, where to begin? Let’s start off by saying that the Cleveland Indians are headed to the 2013 MLB postseason as the American League’s top wild card team. The ball club, led by two-time World Series champion Terry Francona, has just completed a historically excellent month of September in which the team went 21-6, including a ten-game winning streak to finish out the regular season.
The Indians finished the regular season with a 92-70 record – an incredible 24-game turnaround from last season. Granted, this is not the same team that saw its playoff hopes diminish by way of a post-All-Star break collapse in 2012. The days of suffering through poorly-managed, Manny Acta-led Indians ball clubs whose everyday lineups consisted of scrubs like Aaron Cunningham and Casey Kotchman are long gone.
This team has its All-Stars (Justin Masterson and Jason Kipnis) and it has its big names (Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn). It’s the other guys, some of whom make up the club’s “Goon Squad,” that have truly made this team a force to be reckoned with. Guys like Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, and Ryan Raburn make up a rather long list of underappreciated Indians players who have provided this year’s club with just the right amount of moxie, hustle, and all-around solid play to make the postseason.
Who would’ve thought that Scott Kazmir would emerge as one of the league’s best comeback stories? Speaking of comebacks, how about the miraculous second-half performance of Ubaldo Jimenez, or the emergence of Raburn as a legitimate power bat in the Tribe lineup?
“Zep” has been dominant out of the bullpen since being acquired at the trade deadline. (Photo credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
The trade deadline acquisition of left-handed relief pitcher Marc Rzepczynski is also worth mentioning. Initially, the move didn’t sit over too well with Tribe fans who felt that the team could’ve done much better, given what was supposedly available on the deadline market. Remarkably, “Zep” has served as one of the league’s best bullpen arms since the trade occurred. While posting a 0.89 E.R.A in 27 appearances since the trade, he has helped further solidify a bullpen that had been considered the team’s weakest link prior to acquiring Rzepczynski.
Heck, even lifelong minor-leaguer Matt Carson got in on the fun by contributing a game-winning RBI single recently. And if you already forgot about Jason Giambi’s recent walk-off homer, then shame on you. (I honestly can’t remember a time in my young life where I’ve ever experienced a greater feeling of euphoria than I did during this moment…okay, except maybe during this game).
Despite the team’s overall success, attendance figures at Proggresive Field reached absurdly low marks in 2013. One would figure that filling the seats during the postseason would not be an issue, but it seems that Cleveland fans have been reluctant to place their belief in this team. Meanwhile, some Clevelanders are ready to anoint Browns QB Brian Hoyer, who has started and won all of two games for the consistently dismal franchise, as the town’s savior.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my Browns, too. But what do the Indians have to do to get the town as excited about baseball as it was during the days of Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, and Jim Thome? I’m more than convinced that this ball club genuinely deserves it. Bringing a World Series trophy back to Cleveland for the first time in over 60 years would be nice, but the fact of the matter is that these Indians should already have the full attention and support of the entire city and its fans.
Things have been falling into place for this team for quite some time now, and there’s little reason to doubt the club now as it rides its longest winning streak of the season into the playoffs. Regardless of the outcome of Wednesday’s wild card game (which will take place in Cleveland, by the way), this season should be viewed as an extremely positive indication of what is to come. Jump on board the bandwagon, everybody. There’s still plenty of room to spare.