It’s now been 70 years since the Cleveland Indians won its last World Series championship. If you remember, they had two perfect opportunities in the mid-to-late 1990s with the core of Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Albert Belle. They would go on to win two American League pennants during that span: losing to the Atlanta Braves in the 1995 World Series, and then the Florida Marlins in 1997.
The Indians wouldn’t sniff the Fall Classic until 2016, where they ultimately blew a 3-1 lead to the Chicago Cubs. And who could forget last season, winning 102 games (the second most in baseball)? Cleveland was faced with once again a picture perfect opportunity to break the curse. However, a blown 2-0 lead in the ALDS against the New York Yankees dashed their hopes.
The 2018 Cleveland Indians are currently leading a hilariously bad American League Central by 8.5 games. In fact, the division is so putrid that the second-place Minnesota Twins are nine games under .500. Another opportunity to break the curse awaits the Indians in the coming months (god forbid they blow their large division lead); but could this be their last shot?
The Indians have a few key players that will become free agents in the off-season, one of which is star reliever, Andrew Miller. The 34-year-old has shown a little bit of his age this season thanks to injuries (now on the 10-day DL), to go along with a 4.40 ERA in 14.1 innings. Additionally, closer Cody Allen and outfielder Michael Brantley are set to join him as soon as the calendar flips to December. With this being the case, the time is now for Cleveland to go all in this postseason because they may not have these pieces again in 2019.
To have a chance of making it back to the World Series, the Indians will need to pick up their play. At the moment, Cleveland is pegged as the #3 seed in the AL playoffs, trailing the defending World Champions Houston Astros and New York Yankees by 7.5 games.
Cleveland’s bats have held up their end of the bargains thus far, ranking 4th and 8th, respectively in all of baseball in total home runs and team batting average. They’ve received robust production from first baseman Jose Ramirez and shortstop, Francisco Lindor, who are each hitting .296 with a combined 42 home runs and 96 RBIs. One player that needs to step up is second baseman Jason Kipnis, who is only slashing .212/.296/.344 with a lowly .644 OPS. That’s not going to cut it come October.
Starting pitching has carried the Indians all year as Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevenger offer a combined record of 24-10 with a 2.51 ERA through 330.3 innings of work. It’s rare for a starting rotation to have three trustworthy arms to lean on. However, that’s a stark contrast to their bullpen.
Cleveland has seen its once deep and lock-down bullpen turn into a leaky one this season, sporting a dreadful 5.28 bullpen ERA. The relievers mentioned above, such Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, haven’t been themselves this year, surrendering a combined 35 hits and 20 runs in just 46.2 innings. Josh Tomlin has struggled, too, allowing 3.6 HRs for every 9 innings pitched. It’s clear that the Indians may look to acquire a reliever at the trade deadline if they don’t feel that their bullpen is viable enough to last in the postseason.
What the Indians need to do is to simply replicate what they did last year (although that will be difficult) and trade for a run-producer to insert into the lineup. Cleveland’s offense exploded after acquiring Jay Bruce at last year’s deadline. Also, another important key is to not peak too early like they did last year. If you remember, the Indians strung together an American League record 22 consecutive from late August to mid-September. While it didn’t serve as the lone reason why Cleveland flamed out early in the postseason last year, it definitely didn’t help the team’s stamina, as stars like Lindor and Ramirez slowed down at the plate last October.
In full, the Indians must go all in with their current core and try to win it. Although it’s a lofty expectation, it needs to be done so not another opportunity is blown.