Cleveland Indians: 3 things that derailed the 2021 season

A general view of Progressive Field home of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
A general view of Progressive Field home of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /
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Cleveland Indians, Zach Plesac
Zach Plesac #34 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images) /

3 things that wrecked the Cleveland Indians 2021 season

With a little over a week since the curtain dropped on Cleveland’s 2021 season, there has been some time to process the events of a full 162-game campaign beyond surface-level, knee jerk reactions. Yes, it’s disappointing the Cleveland Indians couldn’t stay competitive beyond June when Cleveland was somehow 10 games over .500. Yes, there are plenty of things to be weary about as the playoffs march on without the Tribe for the second time since 2016.

However, with the time to look back at the season objectively, as well as see some actions already taken by the front office, it’s becoming easier to pinpoint some of the specific things that sent 2021 spiraling out of control for Cleveland. Some things are certainly obvious, and may draw an eye-roll at each mention going forward with the results of the campaign still fresh for so many fans, but others may have been less blatant, or even things that have plagued the Tribe for several seasons.

So let’s take a brief reprieve from worrying about what to do with a potential Jose Ramirez extension, or the plethora of 40-man roster decisions that need to be made to circumnavigate the Rule 5 Draft. Instead, let’s take a deep breath and look back at some of the specifics of 2021 that derailed the Tribe’s promising start, and decide with the benefit of hindsight if these issues can be addressed for 2022 and beyond.

Cleveland Indians derailment factor #1: Injuries

Cue the first eye roll from every fan of the team, but let’s address the obvious one first and foremost. Coming into 2021 Cleveland had questions in one area they haven’t had questions about for at least the past six seasons; the rotation. The Indians had three guaranteed spots in the rotation filled by Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac, but put the last two spots up for grabs in Spring Training with Logan Allen, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill battling it out.

Ultimately, Allen and McKenzie won the rotation spots, forcing Quantrill into the bullpen, and after 162 games it seems as if Cleveland has their 2022 rotation figured out with McKenzie and Quantrill proving their mettle. However, it wasn’t figured out overnight. The team struggled terribly when all three of Bieber, Civale and Plesac wound up on the injured list. Bieber strained his shoulder, Civale had a somewhat freak finger fracture and Plesac lost a fight with a chair.

It isn’t difficult to understand why Cleveland went from 10 games over .500 in June to a sub-.500 pace the rest of the campaign, and the pitching was hard enough to overcome before we even get into the injuries that kept the likes of Franmil Reyes, Roberto Perez, Josh Naylor and Nick Sandlin off the field for significant chunks of/the rest of 2021.

The volume of injuries Cleveland faced wasn’t overwhelming, but the key contributors who were affected by them proved devastating for a young team learning a new identity and lacking depth. 2021 can be written off as somewhat of a fluke in this department, as it doesn’t warrant firing an entire strength and conditioning staff over, but the hope is to be a lot luckier in 2022.