Lacking Talent, Cleveland Indians are Not a Playoff Team

By richardclark
Frank Vitores- USA TODAY Sports
Frank Vitores- USA TODAY Sports

I’m tired of hearing that the Cleveland Indians have heart, that the team will never stop fighting, and that it can catch a Detroit Tigers team composed of the last three American League MVPs and Cy Young Award Winners. Heart rarely trumps talent. To fight is not to win.

I want so badly to believe Terry Francona when he says this team can contend. I was in the bleachers for the Wild Card game last October 2. I drove from South Bend to Cleveland and back in 24 hours to be there for my team. I felt the energy, the passion, and the excitement at Progressive Field. When Danny Salazar piped a 100 mph fastball past James Loney to end the first inning, the place exploded. The Indians lamented that having a taste of the postseason made them hungrier to get back, and I was as optimistic as anyone this spring. But, no matter how much I want to believe in the Tribe, to believe that last year was more than an aberration, my head won’t let me.

Justin Verlander is currently the fourth best pitcher in the Detroit rotation. Yes, the same Verlander who captured both the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young awards. David Price, Detroit’s big deadline addition, is having the best season of his decorated career. Max Scherzer continues to impress and Anibal Sanchez, the 2013 AL ERA leader, remains the Tigers’ most consistent starter. Miguel Cabrera is the most feared hitter in baseball, with Victor Martinez serving as his formidable bodyguard. Martinez — who would look awfully good in Wahoo red and blue again next season — is like baseball’s Tim Duncan, seemingly getting better with age.

In the chase for the Wild Card, the Indians are 3.5 games back of the Toronto Blue Jays for the second spot, with the first spot all but locked up by the red hot Los Angeles Angels. Behind the Indians and Jays are the Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, and Kansas City Royals. The Mariners signed Robinson Cano in the offseason and traded for both Kendrys Morales and Austin Jackson at the deadline before taking two of three from the Tribe at Progressive Field last week. The Mariners rotation is talented and deep. The Yankees added Martin Prado, Brandon McCarthy, and Stephen Drew. All three impact the big league roster, adding depth and potential. The Royals were a sexy preseason pick to sneak into the postseason, and with solid pitching and the MLB’s best defense, Kansas City is surging up the standings.

Justin Masterson never found his 2013 form and was shipped to St. Louis while Asdrubal Cabrera, the last remnant of the Indians’ 2007 ALCS team, was sent to Washington, both for prospects. Nick Swisher’s batting average sits just above the Mendoza line. Jason Kipnis looks more like Cord Phelps than the All-Star from a year ago, hampered by a cranky oblique. Michael Bourn and his hamstring remain on the DL. The Tribe’s rotation has been a revolving door of mediocrity. Ryan Raburn and David Murphy are doing their best David Dellucci and Jason Michaels impressions platooning in right. Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, Corey Kluber, and the overworked Bullpen Mafia stand out as the sole reasons the Tribe has remained a .500 ballclub.

This Indians team will not reel off 10 in a row to close out the season like it did a year ago. Jason Giambi will more likely be a bench warmer than a walkoff hero down the stretch. The magic harnessed by the Tribe last September is gone.

Perhaps the future will bring success, with Francisco Lindor, Jesus Aguilar, Trevor Bauer, Salazar and the newly acquired sluggers Zach Walters and James Ramsey waiting in the wings.

But the future is not the present. On October 2, 2014 there will be no lights on at Progressive Field, no banner on the Eagle Avenue parking garage, no roar of the crowd, no rally towels.

Instead, disappointment will fill the air as Cleveland fans shift their collective focus to Johnny Manziel and LeBron James, examples of the type of real talent on other Cleveland sports teams that the Indians simply lack.

Richard Clark is a Cleveland Indians contributor for Follow him on Twitter @RickyC_33


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