Sometimes your favorite team doesn't make the playoffs, and if you're in that unenviable position this year, we at Beyond the Box Score want to help you decide who you're going to root for (or against) this postseason. We'll be publishing ten articles, one for each playoff team, with writers laying out the case in favor of and opposed to each team. In this, we examine the team from the city that already has a championship this year (albeit in another sport): the Cleveland Indians.
Root for the Indians
Baseball media has been pegging the Indians as the "this is their year!" team for years now. They've always had some intriguing pieces, but it hasn't all come together until now. 94 wins later, they're the AL Central champions and on their way to the playoffs.
But why should you root for them to win it all? Why, because you'll be invited to a party if they do.
All year, there has been a huge party happening in Cleveland. Cleveland, of all places! Contrary to common belief, it didn't start when the Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers, despite having the first unanimous MVP of all time. The party began when Mike Napoli started hitting all the dingers. The Party at Napoli's has been the very heart and soul of this year and this team, along with Francisco Lindor's incredible smile.
Parties are about fun, and that's exactly what Cleveland has been, fun. They have a young lineup and a young starting rotation, a fascinating bullpen and a hilarious and inventive manager in Terry Francona.
Lindor is the nucleus here. Just 22 years old, Lindor was an above-average hitter while putting on a defensive clinic. Not many shortstops can hit over .300, launch 15 home runs, and be a shoo-in for the Gold Glove. Lindor did just that in his first full season. The lineup also boasts an unconventional leadoff hitter (the slow but OBP-oriented Carlos Santana) the dynamic Jason Kipnis, and the suddenly-dynamic Jose Ramirez playing all over the dang field.
Unfortunately, injuries has deprived you of the chance to bask in the glory of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar for multiple playoff games. But you'll still get 2014 Cy Young winner and excellent pitching robot Corey Kluber on your television, and a Game One start from Driveline Baseball poster boy Trevor Bauer. If those two can dominate while getting passable outings from Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger, Cleveland will be in good shape. It's a hard task, given that the Red Sox score somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand runs every single game.
But if there's a team in the AL postseason picture equipped to deal with that, it's Cleveland. They pitch well, they defend well, they scrape together runs, and then they throw Andrew Miller and Cody Allen at you to finish the game out (without waiting for save situations, even in the regular season!). They won't be at full strength without Carrasco and Salazar, to say nothing of All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley, but they're still a very dangerous team with capable players up and down the order.
So go grab yourself one of those spiffy Chief Wahoo-free caps and crack open a cold one, dear reader. It's playoff time, and Cleveland is your team. Every time they win, you're invited to the party at Napoli's. The Red Sox are a tough assignment, but they also have Clay Buchholz pitching Game Three, so, yeah.
And who needs the Red Sox anyways? They've won plenty of championships this century, and the Indians haven't won 1948. Let's spoil Big Papi's retirement party, and let's have some fun doing it.
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Root against the Indians
Cleveland has a tortured sports history. Year after year, their sports fans have been driven mad by events like their beloved Browns moving away, then coming back and then being pretty bad for years. In baseball, the Indians lost one of the greatest and most competitive World Series ever in 1997, after Edgar Renteria lofted a single off the glove of Charles Nagy. In basketball, the Cavaliers have been one of the least successful NBA franchises until Lebron James singlehandedly brought a championship amidst the largest NBA lottery tax bill of all time. Even before he did that, he had to set off the greatest firestorm in NBA history with his live television broadcast of "The Decision." That decision brought an extra four years of agony to Cleveland fans as they tried to figure out what they've done wrong.
With all of that history and the magical run their basketball team had, isn't it time to embrace Cleveland and their beloved Indians into the elite sports city club of success?
You've had your fun, Cleveland. The Indians have had an amazing season, undoubtedly. With a 14-game winning streak that ran from late June into early July, the Tribe put themselves firmly atop the AL Central Division and stayed there. But they don't have the same story as some of the other teams in the AL. The Red Sox have Big Papi's swan song to fight for. The Rangers have the return of Yu Darvish, and trade deadline acquisitions that are blending together in a perfect mesh of clutch performance. Their Adrian Beltre-led flair and attitude has made the Rangers almost unbeatable in one-run games. The Blue Jays represent an entire nation!
The Indians, on the other hand, had called out team beat writer Paul Hoynes on Twitter for declaring their season "over" when Carlos Carrasco was lost for the season on September 17. Players like Trevor Bauer came after Hoynes on Twitter, which isn't really the best place to handle arguments professionally. In this case, the players coming out against Hoynes weren't taking the highest of roads. Trevor Bauer even was so far as to call Jerry a coward for not showing up to cover the team the day after his tweet, even though it was Jerry's scheduled day off. Maybe a little more research might do you some good, Trevor.
Furthermore, the Indians blew a shot at acquiring Jonathan Lucroy at the deadline. Since they couldn't (or wouldn't) commit to him being their everyday catcher in 2017 in favor of the oft-injured Yan Gomes, Lucroy didn't waive his no-trade clause in favor of taking his talents to Cleveland. Gomes returned on September 30th after a shoulder injury that caused him to miss 68 games in the second half of the season. His season line suffered as a result, leading to him hitting a paltry .167/.201/.327 in 264 plate appearances. Lucroy, on the other hand, hit a blistering .275/.345/.539 since his trade to the Rangers, cementing himself as one of the top catchers in the league with his second half burst.
After the Lucroy deal fell through, Chris Gimenez, the man he would've replaced, said, "Hopefully, we can win the World Series and we'll all be laughing at him." Well, with the way Lucroy and the Rangers have been playing, it looks like they're in line for the last laugh. The Red Sox and Blue Jays may also have something to laugh at soon enough as well.