Who saw this coming? Besides me, of course.
Conspiracy theories never seem to be very popular, and yet I’ve had a high success rate putting my money where my mouth is when it comes to this stuff. The Yankees, they of being a 91-win wild card team against the “mighty” Indians and their 102-60 record, had no chance, right? Down 0-2 with Corey Kluber ready for Game 5? Who saw this coming?
Well, I did.
Before we start anointing the Yankees as the reincarnation of the 90’s dynasty clubs, let’s step back and realize that despite all the numbers and one crazy winning streak, the Indians weren’t actually that good. Hear me out.
Much like their 2002 Oakland Athletics brethren, whose streak record they broke, the Indians fell flat at home in Game 5 of the ALDS. During that incredible run, just how impressive were the Indians? Actually, not all that much. Yes, they swept the Yankees, and that included a Kluber-over-Luis-Severino matchup. But that was literally just about it. Aside from pounding the Red Sox in a Chris Sale start to kick off the streak, 18 of those 22 wins were against teams with losing records. And some bad ones at that, including the bottom-feeding White Sox, Tigers, and Orioles, with four wins over the over-the-hill Royals to boot.
Cleveland built its successful season on starting pitching, and the Tribe had very good starting pitching. But the bedrock of that rotation, Corey Kluber, was starting to leak a little bit of oil late in the year. The numbers didn’t show it, because he got to face soome cupcake teams, but when his team needed him, the Klubot malfunctioned.
Baseball history is littered with plenty of 2017 Indians-like stories. 100-win teams that somehow faltered in the playoffs. The theme is always the same: “they choked.” Well, in Cleveland’s case, that’s pretty much true, because who knows choking better than the Indians? After all, this is a franchise who, when you include the 2013 wild card game, is now 3-18 in its last 21 elimination games. Even the San Diego Padres saw that stat and laughed.
Last year, when the Indians made their run to the World Series, they were clicking on all cylinders and, at the same time, catching people by surprise. But their over-dependency on certain players, like Kluber, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, and the ankle-spraining Edwin Encarnacion, was bound to catch up. The Yankees are a much better team than their 91-71 record would indicate (actually, their 100-62 “Pythagorean” record is a better indicator, if you believe in that stuff), and the Indians shouldn’t have taken comfort in winning five of the seven regular-season matchups.
Now, the 90’s are back, and a Yankees dynasty is in the making it would seem. The long-suffering Houston Astros are the only thing that stand in between the Yankees and a crack at a 28th World Series title. I did feel that before the playoffs began, Houston-New York and Boston-Cleveland would have been better matchups to possibly spare us from either the Red Sox or Yankees reaching the ALCS. It didn’t work out that way, and now half of the Evil Empire Bandwagon is still taking members.
As Houston preps for a shot at doing what no team has ever done — beating the Red Sox and Yankees in the same postseason — Cleveland is heading home, another disappointment in tow, another choke for their heartbroken fan base. I joked to myself a few weeks ago when watching an Astros game that A.J. Hinch “looks like the kind of manager who would keep a positive attitude while giving a gracious-loser interview to Fox Sports after losing to the Red Sox or Yankees.” Instead, I’m sitting here and watching Terry Francona doing the same thing. At least Tito doesn’t have to go back very far in the archives to remember how that speech goes.
TV would love nothing more than a Yankees-Dodgers or Yankees-Cubs Fall Classic. Purists like myself would love nothing more than an Astros-Nationals tilt, just because I don’t give a you-know-what about ratings. Now, the Yankees and their fanbase, in serious distress not having had an ALCS appearance in five whole years, will walk on air talking about how they just beat the best team in baseball.
But here’s a newsflash: the Indians were not and are not the best team in baseball. Tell me how many 16-0 or 15-1 teams have won the Super Bowl? Two, to be exact. Tell me how many 100-win teams have won the World Series in the 21st Century? Two, to be exact (including the 2009 Yankees). Records tend to mean very little, as both the Yankees and Indians are proving.