How the Cleveland Indians front office built a dynasty that will never be considered a dynasty.
Spring Training 2012 saw the beginning of what would be the second-worst season in the prior decade. With a spring record of 7-22-3 heading into the season, the Cleveland Indians pushed forward. The lineup that Cleveland put on the field was sprinkled with names that would go on to become the cornerstones of a 2016 season to remember. Unfortunately, these guys were still a few years away from hitting their stride.
Led by crafty shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, and unhinged closer Chris Perez, the Indians took a 44-41 record into the All-Star break but the omen of things to come came in the form of a -29 run differential. The Indians were flying high and they were playing pretty well. That is until the second half started.
Coming out of the break the Indians finished the month of July 6-12, getting swept by Minnesota. They then opened the month of August being swept, back-to-back, by division rivals Kansas City and Detroit. The result was an 11-game losing streak that all but took the wind out of the club who would drop 15 of 16 to round out August.
The team dropped in the standings like a stone. From the second place in the AL Central to cemented in fourth place, just like that. The Indians finished the season 25 games back in the division and the solid start was all but forgotten.
The following season saw changes in the coaching staff as well as adding veterans Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and trading for Mike Aviles. Brought along in the Aviles trade was a young catcher by the name of Yan Gomes and this 2013 season would also see a September call-up for a 20-year-old Jose Ramirez.
The 2013 Cleveland Indians under Terry Francona managed to improve by 24 wins from the previous season. They finished the year winning 15 of their last 17 which included four swept series and a 10-game win streak to solidify the first American League Wild Card slot. Though the Indians lost in the Wild Card Game, their young core had gotten a taste of the playoffs.
In 2014 and 2015 they found themselves stuck in third place in what could have been considered the toughest division in baseball at the time. Breakout seasons by Corey Kluber, Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall, rookie star Francisco Lindor (2015), and all-stars Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis were able to keep the team afloat but something was missing. They would finish with a record of 85-77 in 2014 and 81-80 in 2015.
Coming into 2016 there was a buzz surrounding the Indians. Their young core had reached maturity and with the additions of the goat Jose Ramirez, rookie Tyler Naquin, and slugger Mike Napoli into the everyday lineup there was a lot to be excited about.
We all know how that season finished, we don’t have to talk about it, but it was a truly incredible regular season to watch as the Indians came into their own and flourished for the first time. Monster seasons from Jose, Lindor, Naquin, Santana, and Kipnis were the driving force behind the 2016 World Series run. But of course, It was all topped off by gutsy pitching performances across the board from the likes of Corey Kluber, Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, and especially Ryan Merritt in Game 5 of the ALCS.
In 2017 the Cleveland Indians smelled blood in the water. They brought trained assassin Edwin Encarnacion to anchor the middle of the order and paired with Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and Michael Brantley, they looked virtually unstoppable. Two starting pitchers with an ERA under 3.30, 18 wins, and 225+ strikeouts, and a third adding 17 wins and another 196 strikeouts. All but one starting pitcher had more than 10 strikeouts per nine. It was pure dominance as they collected the second-best record overall.
Unfortunately, injuries to a handful of key contributors during the regular season, and some lackluster postseason play, would lead to an ALDS loss to the Yankees in 5 games. Having had such success over the previous few seasons, fans had begun to expect the team to finally take the next step and win a championship. Unfortunately, such success was all but overlooked by the fanbase but “Championship or bust” is the name of the game.
Everyone considers a dynasty to be solidified only when a Championship has been won. In this particular case, the Indians put together the foundation of a dynasty, but fell just short on the biggest stage. Cleveland’s chances for a dynasty fell with a runner stranded on first base, in the 10th inning of a one-run ball game, in game seven of the World Series. So when you look at the span of eight seasons, you have to consider that the Indians did, in fact, build a dynasty.
If you think I am being ridiculous, I implore you to look past the heartbreak of 2016 and into all the success that was had throughout those eight seasons.
In every season, from 2013-2020, the Cleveland Indians held a winning record. Only three other teams can say the same over that span, The Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Within those eight seasons, they won the AL Central three times, made five playoff appearances, won 90 or more games five times, and won over 100 games once. They collected 24 All-star appearances, three Cy Young winners, eight Silver Sluggers, 13 players ranked top 15 in MVP voting (7 in the top six), five Gold Glovers, 2 Manager of the Year awards, an ALCS MVP, and a Comeback Player of the Year Award.
I grew up in an era of Cleveland baseball that was filled with frustration. I was only 9-years old in 2001 when the Indians’ previous era of success ended and I had just begun to fall in love with the game of baseball.
The majority of my Cleveland baseball memories were of a 96-win 2007 season when Victor Martinez played out of his mind and Kenny Lofton’s career was coming to a close. When Roberto Hernandez (or was it Fausto Carmona) and C.C. Sabathia were two of the best pitchers in baseball and Asdrubal Cabrera showed flashes of greatness. Those were the days I lived for and they were few and far between.
As we transition into the new era of the Cleveland Guardians, I am filled with excitement. My son will be the first generation to have never known the Indians and I can’t wait to watch his love for them grow as if they had been around for 100 years, just like so many before who fell in love with Cleveland baseball. This team, this coaching staff, this front office, gave me reassurance that Cleveland fandom is the most rewarding fandom there is and I will forever be grateful for that. Looking back on the last 10 seasons of Cleveland Indians Baseball, I will always remember the dynasty that was built and how it impacted my life as a baseball fan.
Let’s give this point in time the respect it deserves. There may not be a Championship to show for it but it brought a city together and introduced a whole new generation to what Cleveland baseball is supposed to be.