“Any day now.”
That’s what we’ve been telling ourselves for approximately nine weeks. Any day now the Indians will get their act together and decide the 2019 season is worth fighting for. Or, to be more accurate, they’ll realize they are going to have to fight if they want to make the postseason for the fourth straight season. It isn’t going to be handed to them.
During the weeks leading up to the 2019 season, many prognosticators viewed the AL Central as the Indians division to lose. Despite losing core pieces up and down the roster, the general consensus was that the Indians remained the most talented team in the division. There was little to no concern for competition. (Even though some of us tried to tell you all.)
Kansas City… beginning stages of a full rebuild
Detroit… beginning stages of a full rebuild
Chicago… rebuild begun, but still too young to compete
Minnesota… talented and primed for success, but only if their young core lived up to expectations. Many felt they would not.
But the Indians, led once again by arguably the game’s best starting rotation and two MVP caliber talents on the left side of the infield, were the team to beat.
It made sense on paper. Francsico Lindor and Jose Ramirez are in their primes. Performing at their typical MVP levels would surely cover up the short comings of an offense minus Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer, Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, Yandy Diaz, Bradley Zimmer, and two months worth of Josh Donaldson.
Until they didn’t.
Lindor began the year on the injured list and missed the first three weeks of the season. Jose Ramirez, while on the active roster and in the lineup every day. was just as absent, hitting an abysmal .203/.308/.313 as of today.
That vaunted starting rotation, armed with three, and potentially four Cy Young candidates would take the pressure off of the offense. They would help the Indians steal a lot of close games.
And then it all fell apart.
Bauer… struggling with command since May 1
About the only sure thing for the Indians right now is Shane Bieber. Slated as the fifth starter heading into 2019, he has blossomed into a top of the rotation starter. Jefry Rodriguez and recently Zach Plesac have been pleasant surprises, but not what anyone expected.
The end result? A sub-.500 record and 11.5 game deficit to the Minnesota Twins as of June 4th. But hey, like everyone said…
We’re all idiots.
Now, the week of reckoning is here for the Indians. The Twins head to Cleveland with that commanding 11.5 game lead and the chance to put their foot on the collective throats of the Indians.
Think they aren’t motivated? Sweep this series and the Twins climb to a nearly insurmountable 14.5 game lead. They can all but start printing their division champion t-shirts and stitching together the banner.
As for the Indians, today is the day. This week is the week. It has to be.
A team that has been relatively untested on its way to three straight division titles is about to be tested like it never has. Regardless of what happens, they’ll say there is plenty of time and plenty of baseball left to play. But make no mistake about it. They know.
The Indians know that if they don’t sweep this series and pull themselves back to within 8.5 games, decisions will have to be made. Those decisions may very well impact the future outlook not just for this season, but for seasons to come.
This past offseason was labeled as a sort of hybrid competing rebuild. They allowed talented verterans to walk in an attempt to save money while also acquiring younger talent they believed could still help them compete within a division everyone labeled as weak.
It hasn’t worked. None of it. Combine their lackluster performance with the Twins sudden rise to becoming the best team in baseball and it may be time to pull the trigger on a full rebuild. No one move will be enough to fix the overwhelming laundry list of issues with this team as it is currently constructed. Hell, even if the Indians sit 8.5 games back come Friday the dye might already be cast.
No matter what happens, the next three days will tell us a lot about the 2019 Cleveland Indians. Will they fight for their lives or will they meander through another lackluster series against a division opponent? Will the “most talented team in the division” finally turn it on? Here’s hoping, but however it plays out one thing is certain…
Indians Twitter is going to be a fiery hellscape from which there is no escape.