The Cleveland Indians had the American League’s best record at 102-60. Jose Ramirez will be receiving MVP votes. Corey Kluber is likely the AL Cy Young Award winner. Yet, with all that, they took an early bow out of the playoffs.
No one expected this. But playoff baseball is unforgiving- especially in a best of five series- where the unexpected happens more often than not.
The Indians were flying high against the New York Yankees after grabbing a 2-0 series lead, both wins being completely different.
In Game 1, Trevor Bauer took the mound in a surprise decision by manager Terry Francona. His gamble payed off as Bauer pitched 6.2 innings shutout innings and did not allow a hit until the sixth inning. Jay Bruce had three RBIs and Cleveland won 4-0.
The next night in Game 2, it was a completely different story. The Yankees got to the Tribe’s ace Corey Kluber for three in the first inning. Edwin Encarnacion sprained his ankle and things were not looking good. After a controversial hit by pitch, the bases were loaded for Francisco Lindor who hit a grand slam off of the right field foul pole.
— AL Central champs! (@Indians) October 7, 2017
Bruce tied it at eight after a solo shot in the eighth. In the thirteenth inning, after an Austin Jackson walk and steal of second, catcher Yan Gomes doubled down the left field line to score Jackson and send Cleveland to New York feeling good up 2-0.
The momentum changed in the series with one swing of the bat by Greg Bird in the seventh inning of Game 3. Since that swing, the Indians were not the same. And there were some reasons behind that.
First, the starters in the next two games- Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber, both starting for the second time in the series- did not make it out of the fourth. Long starts was what the starting rotation relied on during the regular season and that did not happen here.
This was very surprising as Bauer said he feels comfortable pitching on short rest and because Kluber was pitching Game 5 on normal rest. Even though the offense helped out Bauer and Kluber earlier in the series, that was not the case in their second start.
Secondly, there were chances by Cleveland in the last three games, but the offense did not do enough given how well the Yankees starters were pitching and how lights out their bullpen is (and because their right fielder is 6 feet, 8 inches tall).
Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez had two hits in the series. That cannot happen from the teams two best players at the plate. Jay Bruce was nonexistent in the last three games after a power surge in the first two. Yes, the loss of Encarnacion in New York did not help, but there is still too much talent for the bats to go that quiet.
Lastly, Cleveland committed eight errors over the last two games of the series. The Indians were one of the best fielding teams in all of the MLB this season. These errors led to eight unearned runs which helped down Cleveland. Two errors in the ninth inning in Game 5 gave New York two insurance runs and a three run lead, which is hard to get back off of Aroldis Chapman.
Cleveland was definitely the better team in the regular season and for some parts of this series, as well. But when the starters do not live up to what they are capable of and star players disappear at the more important times, it is hard to win a playoff series.
There were high expectations for this Cleveland Indian team this October. Those expectations were not met and that means an early playoff exit.
The core of this team will be back next season, so expect them to get back to the playoffs and be one of the best teams in baseball again.