Victor is sadWhat Have We Done To Deserve This Misery?

We had it. Story of our lives.

Up 3 games to 1, with our ace, the likely Cy Young award winner, pitching at home to send us back to the World Series…this time with home field advantage…this time playing a team we would have been favored to beat despite their historic hot streak…this time with a team built around pitching and timely hitting, the keys to October success in baseball.

So what happened? CC Sabathia came out and labored through 6 rough, rough innings, giving up 10 hits and 4 runs. Ok, that hurt, but hey, we thought, we’ve still got 2 more chances to win 1 freaking game and we still have our other stud, Fausto Carmona going. The same guy who in Game 2 of the ALDS against the vicious New York Yankee offense pitched 9 stellar innings, giving up just 1 run on 3 hits. No problem, right? Wrong. 2 innings, 6 hits, 4 walks, and 7 earned runs later, Fausto had pitched us out of the game, out of the series, and out of any legit hope of breaking the title drought.

“The shade is a tool, a device, a savior / See I try and look up to the sky / But my eyes burn / I think God is moving his tongue / There’s no crowds in the street / And no sun in my own summer” – Deftones, “My Own Summer”

I think that sums things up pretty nicely. Cleveland sports teams find refuge in the shade of mediocrity it seems, but once they try to step out into the sunlight of the big stage and Championships, we crash and burn. There’s no crowds in the street because we have nothing to celebrate. Clearly, no sun in the sky for Cleveland sports this year. And so, as the sun sets and winter comes around the corner, I must say goodbye to Cleveland for 2007. No more Indians game, I have no tickets for any remaining Browns games, and it’s probably unlikely that I’ll attend any Cavaliers games before 2008. So it’s time to look back one last time at the 2007 Cleveland Indians.

OuchDon’t Look Back In Anger

The 2007 season was a roller coaster ride of ups and downs to say the least. After 3 seasons of dreadful Aprils, this team actually came out of the gate attacking, posting a 14-8 record in the month. May showed no signs of slowing as the Tribe tore through the month with a 19-11 record, bringing their overall record to 33-19, good for a 3.5 game lead in the division on May 31st, A lead that would surge to 4.5 in early June. At that point, though, the bottom would drop out quickly and the team fell, HARD, going 15-13 in June and 12-14 in July. They saw their 4.5 game lead slide and transform into a 2 game deficit behind the Tigers. Fortunately for the Indians, the Tigers were unable to use the Tribe’s struggles to put some cushion in the lead. The farthest the Indians would ever trail the division this season was 2.5 games. Heading into August, the team seemed to be at an intersection with a choice to make. They could either continue to play .500 baseball or they could suck it up and make a final push to reclaim the division title that had eluded them for 6 years. Thankfully, they chose the latter, going on a big-time run in August and September (17-11 in August, 19-9 in September) to pull away from a fading Detroit. After a late September sweep of the Tigers in Jacobs Field, the division crown was inevitable, and on September 23rd, the Indians clinched their 7th AL Central title. All in all, the Indians spent 111 days in 1st place, finishing at 96-66 and 8 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers. The rest is, well , history.

It’s easy for me to sit here and say ‘well, if only the umpire wouldn’t have blown the Lofton call at 2nd base or if Skinner hadn’t held up Lofton at 3rd and we would have tied the game, things would have been different’, because I genuinely believe that. I think Skinner lost that game for us because he sucked the life out of our team and deflated everyone, while Boston and their fans got an enormous boost. I believe that Casey Blake doesn’t make that error at 3rd if the game is tied and doesn’t feel like he just lost us the game. I believe that Raffy the Righty doesn’t implode without that error. I believe all these things to be true. But, you know what? It doesn’t matter. We lost to a better team. Our Pythagorean W-L was 91-71, while Boston’s was 101-61. So, while we ended up 5 games better than we really were, Boston ended up 5 games worse than they really were. And that’s a big part of why we could jump out to a 3-1 series lead, but couldn’t win the 7 game series. They were simply a more powerful team, and they showed it by battering CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona around for 4 of the 7 games.

I don’t know, maybe Manny was right. Maybe it’s not the end of the world. You try to maintain some perspective, that it’s “just a game”, but all the cliches in the world can’t make it hurt any less. This one was hard to swallow, and this wound will not heal for a very long time. All we can do is look ahead to what the future holds for our beloved team.

Pain and MiseryThe Future Is Not What It Used To Be

Brace yourselves. We’re all going to be hearing an awful lot the next couple days from the major media outlets how we should hold our heads high and how this season was still a great success, and blah blah blah. Forget that. In baseball, the future is fickle. Think about it. In 1997, after losing the World Series, did we really think it would be more than 10 years before we’d make it back? When we won the division in 2001, did we think it would be 6 years before we’d make the playoffs again? In a sport in which only 4 teams from each league makes the playoffs, tomorrow’s guarantee is as dull and toothless as a spoon. We play in a division with 3 of the best franchises in the American League (Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota), and another Sux franchise which sneaks up on you every 10 years or so. And as long as the Red Sux and Yankees are spending 5 times what most other franchises are, you have to assume the wild card will continue to routinely come out of the AL East. This was our chance to win. How often can you expect to be up 3-1 in the ALCS? How often can you expect 4 performances like Byrd’s ALDS Game 4, Westbrook’s ALCS Game 3, Byrd’s ALCS Game 4, and Westbrook’s ALCS Game 7? How often can you expect to have a team hit .450 with 2 outs and runners in scoring position in the postseason? How often can you expect a plague to come down from the heavens to disrupt the opposing team? How often can you expect a team to hit into 13 double plays in a series? This thing was setup for us to win, and we just couldn’t grasp it. That’s why the frustration on the faces of the people in all these pictures is so tangible and real.

Regardless of the suffering, we must suck it up and try to do it all again next year. It’s the eternal mantra of the loser. So what will next year’s team look like? Well, a whole hell of a lot like this year’s, to be honest. Paul Byrd has a $7 million option which, prior to yesterday was expected to be picked up. However, now that this HGH story has broken wide open, I’m not so sure. We’ll have to wait and see. Expect the front 3 of the rotation to look the same, with CC Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, and Jake Westbrook. As for the last 2 rotation spots, I would speculate that rookie Aaron Laffey has a good chance of retaining one of the two spots. He’s earned it with the solid job he did down the stretch and in Game 6 of the ALCS. With the final rotation spot, I would expect Paul Byrd, Cliff Lee, Jeremy Sowers, and Adam Miller to all be fighting for it. The bullpen should also remain very familiar. Lefty and Righty Raffy’s will both be back, as will Jensen Lewis and Tom Mastny. Joe Borowski should be back, but don’t be shocked if the Indians shop around this off season and see who else is available to fight for the closer’s role. In the lineup, again, a lot should be similar. Trot Nixon probably won’t be back, neither will David Delucci. The team will have to decide whether they want to bring Kenny Lofton back for a full campaign with the team. My guess is that they will not. Which leaves Sizemore as the starting CF again and Gutierrez as the likely starting RF, although he needs to start hitting breaking pitches better or he will find himself on the bench as fast as he found his way on the field. I’ll get back to the LF role. Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko will both definitely be back at their respective positions. The rest of the infield is a bit up in the air. Don’t be shocked if the Indians try to get Jhonny Peralta, an obvious defensive liability at SS, to learn the 3B position this off season, which would allow the team to move Asdrubal Cabrera back to his natural SS position. If this happens, I would expect to see Josh Barfield given a chance to start the year at 2B again, but on a very short leash. Don’t be surprised if the team signs an insurance infielder this off season who can help hedge the Barfield bet. So what about Casey Blake, you ask? I think there’s a chance we see Casey back in the OF, filling the LF spot. Casey has a strong arm and was a decent enough outfielder. Other outfielder candidates will include Jason Michaels and Ben Francisco, and I would also bet the team again tries to find a mid-priced middle-talent OF in the offseason to platoon. Finally, Travis Hafner will be back at DH, for better or for worse. Lets hope that Travis can find himself this offseason and discover what it was that hindered him so strongly all season long.

The 2007 Cleveland Indians took us all for a ride, that was fun right until it wrecked in front of our eyes. It was an unpleasant way to finish the season, and will leave a sour taste in the mouths of everyone who loves this team, from the owner’s box to the front office to the managers and coaches to the players to the fans. Our brightest hope lies with the hunger for success inside the players. This is a young team, and a hungry team. They’re just not an experienced team and they faded when the stage got the largest and the lights got the brightest. There were a lot of lessons to be learned this year and a lot of knowledge to be gained. If these guys can capitalize and build on that foundation, there’s hope for next year. If not, we are doomed to watch our drought grow in size and weight over the coming years with heartbreak after heartbreak.

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