The manager of the Cleveland Indians, Terry Francona, is one of the most respected skippers in baseball. It was his recruiting that brought Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to the Tribe in the winter of 2013. It is his meticulous managerial technique that squeezes the most out of a Tribe roster lacking the talent and payroll of a big-market team. It is his poise that keeps the squad confident through rough patches.
Francona’s Indians never stop fighting, as evidenced by Tuesday’s 7-5 victory over the Minnesota Twins. The Tribe found themselves down 5-0 after Trevor Bauer struggled through the first inning. Francona allowed Bauer to find himself, as he pitched into the fifth inning and retired 14 in a row overall before issuing a walk and being pulled.
From that point on, Francona used seven relievers, including four in the seventh inning alone, to stifle the Twins as his offense battled back to secure the crucial victory.
Last season, Francona directed Cleveland back to the postseason for the first time since 2007 in only his first year at the helm. He managed every game like a playoff game, never trying to save the bullpen and rarely conceding defeat before the final out. This year, Francona’s eight-man bullpen leads all of baseball in relief appearances with 442. To put that in perspective, the Colorado Rockies are second with 408 appearances.
Tito also loves to play small ball. Utility man Mike Aviles leads the AL with 10 sacrifice bunts. He walks a fine line between conservative and aggressive, maintaining a balance that has the Tribe in the thick of a playoff race despite the worst defense in baseball, inconsistent pitching, and injuries to Swisher, Bourn, Jason Kipnis and David Murphy.
Perhaps most importantly, in a city full of them, Francona never makes excuses. He takes accountability for losses, and his confidence in his squad never wavers. If anyone can get a below-average team to the playoffs in two consecutive years, it is Tito.