The 2015 season finds the Indians with high expectation not only from themselves, but from the press and fans. Can all of that pressure weigh heavily on the Tribe?
Spring Training starts today for our Cleveland Indians. Pitchers and catchers report, and baseball has finally returned. All the off-season additions, the losses, analysis and projections come down to what happens from this day forward. The Tribe stayed in the playoff hunt till the last few days last season, and did it with most guys a step away from collecting disability. Hopes are high. Injured players are back and ready to go. Some have gone as far to name the Indians the best team in the American League. So who can stop the Indians?
Expectations don’t always undercut a team, but you can look back in sports and see it happen more often than not. Being the underdog, and having success can be easier. Once someone puts the bullseye on you as the team to beat? Winning becomes that much tougher. So being declared the best in the AL Central with teams like Detroit, that’s had a hold on the division the past few years – the Royals who used their Wild Card win to make the World Series – and the White Sox that seemingly added every free agent available to make themselves a winner; how do you go about your business without feeling overwhelming pressure?
This is a deep Indians team. But you have several key players coming back from injuries, many who had a high level of success prior – and had one of their worst years in their career. Now they return, eager to prove they are “back”. But they now have to do it with the eyes of the baseball world on them. If the tribe was predicted fourth, not that many outside of Cleveland would care if Brandon Moss or Jason Kipnis have a good season. But now, thanks to the pundits and projections, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
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Every one of them has that desire to help the Indians over the hump, and will apply a little more pressure to themselves to do so. You also have Lonnie Chisenhall and Carlos Santana, who are being handed keys to their “own” positions this spring. Pressure? Just a bit.
Pitching has become a source of strength for this team. Corey Kluber having a tremendous season en route to the AL Cy Young award highlighting that. But can you believe that it isn’t in his mind – at least a little – to be that same pitcher this year? You know it is. And it doesn’t mean he won’t come out and do just that, but he won’t be “surprising” anybody anymore.
The key for the Indians this season will be throttling expectations. Athletes hear it all the time, and most shut it out. But I’ve watched the Cubs on several occasions in the past decade, with solid teams simply crumble under the immense pressure to win. It’s been a bit longer in Chicago, but that pressure will exist in Cleveland this year.
This team is built to be playing in October. Terry Francona has led a team in the Red Sox that hadn’t won in years to a World Series title. You have veterans mixed in with a good core, and depth to hopefully withstand what the rigors of a 162 game season will bring. Solid pitching, and good talent on the horizon.
If the Indians can avoid those pitfalls, October won’t be about how close they were – but how far they’ll go.