Right now the panic and visions of 2011 and 2012 are swirling through all Tribe fan’s heads. That is understandable for a traumatized fan base and a struggling franchise. I have previously posted that THIS Cleveland Indians team is worthy of your support. I see absolutely NO reason to change that stance and this post is the real “reality check” for Indian fans.
It is very easy and trite to say “Here we go again” as the team struggles and Don Kelly (a .190 hitter) crushes a three run homer off Justin Masterson to give the Tigers a 4-1 lead. Now there is a very high percentage chance that the Tigers will sweep from the Tribe and we will be fading away 2 games below .500. Others will tell me “Well, there is your reality check. We stink.” I will tell you that, as long as we play this bad, you will look like a genius and I will look like an idiot. When the team begins to move forward again, you will be no where to be found with your “reality” check and I will be enjoying baseball again. I prefer enjoying baseball.
I am not blind to the obvious about this version of the Cleveland Indians. From the very early days in Spring Training when all were praising the virtues of our bullpen, I was telling you cracks are developing in that bullpen. Unfortunately, the crack is now a hole and we need to be creative about patching it up. Most fans certainly knew that Mark Reynolds was not a reliable third baseman and we were secretly hoping he would never play there. We also knew that our starting pitching was a serious question mark and that counting on Ubaldo is like playing Vegas. We all felt the team would hit fairly well and be able to score runs but that Nick Swisher was not a “savior” level player to carry us to the promised land. All of these things are true and I do not support this team through rose colored glasses.
But when even solid and lifelong Tribe fans begin to question the quality of this team compared to the 2011 and 2012 versions and are questioning whether or not Francona is as good a manager as we thought he would be, it is clearly a traumatized fan base squealing out again in pain. I am in pain as well and see no end in sight to the pain. But that is the beauty of baseball. Teams will look lost for games at a time (as the Indians certainly do now), and suddenly for no apparent reason will begin to play solid again. For an individual hitter, maybe it means a bloop hit they didn’t expect to get. Or a pitcher makes a bad pitch with the bases loaded and the batter pops up instead of slamming a homer. Maybe the other team gets sloppy and walks guys, makes an error, and you bloop one in to score two. Maybe it is just luck. But, as those things start to happen again and they always do, the team relaxes and things start to fit together. Instead of the dribbler being thrown away by your defense, he throws a seed to the first baseman to get the out. Two bloops are followed by a blast and you are up 3-0. A starting pitcher steps up and throws a 3 hit shutout and you win 2-0. Next thing you know, as Manager Brown says “You call that a winning streak.”
Baseball, more than other “physical” team sport, is a game that relies on all pieces of the team to either complement each other or for one piece to “carry” the other ones. Unless either hitting or starting pitching is “smoking hot”, the team will not win unless defense and bullpen pitching is exceptional and some good fortune comes their way. Baseball is a team skill game that cannot be compensated for by brute force. Football, hockey, and even basketball can be influenced by physical play. Therefore when you get mad or frustrated you can at least pancake a guy into the ground, battle for rebounds and commit hard clean fouls, or slam a guy into the boards and rattle his chain. All of these things can clearly influence a game because you can do them more than once. In baseball, when you get mad and play frustrated, you often fail at the plate, on the mound, or in the field. The key is to relax and to let your personal skill take over. Do something you have done for your whole life with confidence and a blind eye to failure. Don’t try to do too much, stay within yourself and rely on your teammates to keep things going if you have a single instead of a home run. This is ABSOLUTELY easy to talk about and difficult to do. That is why team meetings about these types of things often don’t work. The only way they work is if the team is more relaxed after the meeting than they were before.
That is also where fans come into play. I would argue that a great enthusiastic crowd at a baseball game that comes with positive instead of negative energy will relax a baseball team. If the team comes home to boos and negative chatter and empty seats, we will be now another component of the team to be dysfunctional. I don’t imply by that the team will respond with a winning streak simply because fans show up and have positive energy. But to give up an entire season and all the money spent (FINALLY) by the ownership before the season is even half way gone makes absolutely no sense. The Indians now are 2 games below .500 as I write this and we have just lost the game to Detroit. That is not exactly like being 15 games below .500 and out of the race. The reality check is that, if we give up on a vastly superior team with a chance to sustain some winning for a few years this early, we are reacting emotionally and acting like we don’t understand baseball. I have strongly supported the Cleveland fans as knowledgeable and insightful fans. I think we will show that when the team finally comes home. I certainly will do that and I hope you will too.
A team is never as bad as they are when they are losing in bunches and never as good as they are when they are winning in bunches. The 2013 Cleveland Indians have shown both and are still not out of the race by a long shot. They are probably a .540 – .560 team with an outside chance to make the playoffs. As time goes on, we will see that develop and they will be much more fun to watch and support. Right now, it is downright sickening.