Though the phrase "winning the off-season doesn't win playoff games" has become ubiquitous and trite, there is little question that the Cleveland Indians "won" the off-season through a series of moves that shocked and likely pleased even their most jaded of fans. Whether "winning the off-season" will mean that the Tribe will win – or even play in – playoff games is what's on the doorstep; and though it is common knowledge that predicting the events of a baseball season are a fool's errand, this fool is about to take off running with a look at the season to come, maybe...
April 8th vs. NYY
In the Home Opener, Bourn reaches base 4 times and steals 2 bases, pacing the Tribe offense from the top of the lineup. In a moment that provides a preview of the season-long excellence in the OF, he makes a game-saving catch by bringing back a potential 2-run HR off of the bat of Cano to end the game, preserving a 9-8 victory for the Indians, as Yankee "fans" from Medina, Avon, and Twinsburg sadly trudge home. After the game, Francona is asked whether he thinks that the potency of the offense and the struggles of the rotation thus far represent a microcosm of what is to come, to which he responds, "C'mon guys...we've played 7 games, let's back off of the grand pronouncements over how this season is going to shake out right now."
May 15th at PHI
Facing all LHP on the day, Stubbs surprisingly hits for the cycle, though his feat will be but a footnote as the Phillies prevail 14-7. The most noteworthy news will come after the game as Ubaldo Jimenez, victimized for 10 runs in 1 2/3 IP and now leading MLB in ERA (by a wide margin), will be DFA'd as the team that is no longer willing to wait out his mechanical and mental issues, deciding to cut bait on the player that was their big mid-season acquisition less than two years earlier. With Carrasco having already arrived from Columbus to replace an injured Kazmir 3 weeks earlier, it is announced that Bauer – now more comfortable with his "neuromuscular programming" reboot and dominating in Columbus – will replace Jimenez in the rotation.
June 3rd at NYY
Swisher makes a triumphant return to New York, chirping "you can't spell Bronx without B-R-O" prior to the game, then backs it up by smacking 2 HR against the sinking ship that is the Yankees. Swisher's bombs into the short porch in RF are not the only balls deposited there off of Tribe bats as Kipnis, Giambi, and Brantley (the first of the 4 HR he will hit all year) also homer as the Tribe pastes the Yankees 16-5. Swisher's enthusiasm continues to set the tone for the Indians offense, with his production – he will finish the year with 27 HR, second on the team at the end of the year, trailing only Santana – providing exactly what the Indians had hoped for.
June 9th at DET
The Motor City Kitties complete a sweep of the 3rd place Tribe, padding their divisional lead and asserting their dominance by outscoring the Indians 38-4 in the 3-game set. Despite not pitching in the three blowouts, Indians' closer Chris Perez is in the mood to talk, saying that "the Tigers have 4 – maybe even 5 – starters that are better than anyone we have...how are we supposed to top them in any game, much less in the division?" Though his statement is far from inaccurate, it causes more than a few grumbles among the veterans in the Tribe clubhouse...and elsewhere. Within two weeks, Perez will be traded to the Dodgers for LHP Chris Capuano and a young arm.
July 7th vs. DET
After scoring all 5 runs in a 9-5 loss to the Tigers, Kipnis and Santana are named as AL reserves for the upcoming All-Star team, a first for each player. With both enjoying breakout seasons, each gushes about the counsel they've received from Indians' DH (vs. RHP) Giambi in furthering their development as hitters. A week later, prior to his departure for the All-Star Game, the Indians will announce the signing of a 6-year, $32M extension for Kipnis, with a club option that can potentially keep him on the team through the 2019 season.
July 29th vs. CHW
Aviles plays a pivotal role in an 8-3 victory over Chicago, lacing 2 doubles and initiating 7 GIDP behind Masterson as he continues to sparkle defensively at SS when called upon. After the game, Francona gushes about Aviles' defense and leadership, saying that Aviles has the talent to be an everyday SS in MLB. Few know it at the time, but Francona's words are telling as Aviles will become the Tribe's everyday SS two days later when Asdrubal Cabrera is packaged with Akron SS Ronny Rodriguez and sent to the Cardinals, with the Tribe raiding St. Louis' cupboard of young power arms in return.
August 10th vs. LAA
Chisenhall leads the offense, hitting his 17th and 18th HR of the season, and McAllister goes 7 strong innings against a loaded Angels' lineup, lowering his ERA below 4.00, the first time that a starting pitcher on the Opening Day roster falls below that mark since mid-April. McAllister's performance in the 6-1 win against the Halos sets off a string of solid starts from the rotation with McAllister, Bauer, Carrasco, Masterson, and Capuano leading the team to a 12-3 record over the next 15 games. August marks the best month for the starters as they find some consistency and the promise of the young pitchers translates into performance.
September 16th at KC
On the day that the Tigers clinch the AL Central, becoming the first team in MLB to clinch their division, Reynolds hits a 3-run HR, his 24th of the year. Reynolds' day is more notable however for his 3rd strikeout of the day, which marks the 1,530th strikeout by an Indian in 2013, "topping" Arizona's single season record of 1,529 strikeouts in 2010. After the game, Francona bristles at the continued questioning over the new record for the Tribe, eventually blurting out, "if we're suddenly counting season totals in mid-September, how about one of you notices that we topped 750 runs on the season today, which is 3rd highest in the AL...aw, to hell with it – go write your strikeout story and try to get your Tweeter followers or whatever the hell you guys are after these days anyways..."
September 29th at MIN
The season ends in a game that is symbolic of the year as the offense is forced to claw back into the game as a result of a poor outing for a starter – Bauer on this day – with the bullpen holding on just long enough for the middle of the Tribe lineup to thump its way to a 10-8 victory, allowing the team to finish the season with a 84-78 mark. The record is good enough to put the into Tribe 2nd place in the AL Central as Francona summarizes after the game that "starting pitching killed us, but we've made some moves to add some live arms to the mix from the Asdrubal and Perez deals that are going to factor in sooner rather than later and, with the group of young talent we have on the offensive side of the ledger, this team is about to get very exciting." Amid the snickers, Francona adds, "trust me guys, I know when a team is poised to take the next step – and this team is...soon."
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