It’s just better if we don’t ask, it really is
What can we say about the Cleveland Indians? The only bright side about Tuesday night’s game in Milwaukee is that we don’t have to waste time looking for a bright side. There was the pathetic performance with runners in scoring position (one for eleven, plus grounding into four double plays). There was the throwing error that led to three unearned runs. There was the struggling veteran (Matt Garza, 5.55 ERA entering the game) who was magically transformed into Pedro Martinez when the Indians showed up at the plate. There was Michael Bourn with three strikeouts and a GIDP. Even the attendance was a pisser, watching a worse team in a smaller market draw more on a weeknight than the Indians have since opening day.
Did I mention that the Brewers suck? Did I mention that this would have been a good week to get hot and gain some ground on the wild card leaders? Did I mention how difficult it is to get more hits than your opponent and lose by seven runs? Did I mention that NFL training camp starts next week?
Calm down, you say. At least they won Wednesday. Lots of things went right Wednesday. The bullpen was stalwart. There were no errors. There were fourteen hits, including two each from Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes, and Francisco Lindor, all of whom need to get hot and stay hot for this team to have a shot. Perhaps most crucially, Michael Brantley looked like 2014 Michael Brantley, the 7.0 WAR guy who put fear in the hearts of opposing managers. A few more games like Wednesday and this could get interesting.
All of which leaves us…right where we were before the series started. I know, we gained a game on Minnesota. Just to clarify, the Twins have lost 25 of their last 45, so unless they reverse that trend they won’t be the team we are chasing in September. There’s really no way to know who will be leading the wild card pack on Labor Day and beyond, with eight teams still within five games. Right now, the only team the Indians need to measure themselves against is themselves, and a split with Milwaukee does nothing to help. If anything, it hurts, both because the Brewers represented a golden opportunity to get a sweep and maintain the momentum that the two wins in Cincinnati created, and because they are two games closer to running out of time.
Since a three-game sweep against Cincinnati on May 22-24 brought the Indians within three games of .500, they have tread water, splitting the next fifty games. They had several chances in early June to actually reach .500 and lost every time. They fell as much as eight games under in late June, but a four-game sweep in Tampa brought them right back to their comfort zone. Since that point, they have alternated between good and bad on almost a daily basis.
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It’s hard to escape the feeling at this point that this is just what they are: a team with talent that will piss away just enough games to wreck the season. As I write this it is happening yet again, getting blown out by the White Sox. With virtually any other professional franchise, those circumstances would lead to questions about the manager, particularly since this is happening for the second consecutive year. The odds of this happening with the Indians are miniscule, but perhaps they shouldn’t be, as sacrilegious as that may be.
In three years this team has played solid, consistent baseball for about six weeks, at the end of 2013. The one playoff game that took place at the end of that season should not be enough to give a manager a lifetime pass. It is safe to assume, moreover, that if Francona deemed anyone on his roster a poor fit, either for performance or chemistry reasons, that the front office would move heaven and earth to get that guy out of town, unless he was making fourteen million. So any intangible issues causing the underperformance are the result of a roster mix that Francona, for the most part, signed off on.
For all that Terry Francona brings to this franchise, it is indisputable that this team under his watch has failed to play to its potential. Unless another solution presents itself, the question that must not be asked might rear its ugly head.