The atmosphere was booming Wednesday night at Progressive Field in Cleveland for the first Indians playoff game since 2007.
They had been the hottest team in baseball heading into the postseason. They won 10 straight to close out the regular season, 15 of their last 17 games and 21 out of 27 games in September, tying a franchise record for wins in the final month.
But unfortunately for the Tribe, the dream ride came to an end with a 4-0 loss to the surging Tampa Bay Rays. While the Indians had their fare share of chances to score some runs, it will be the Rays who play the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS.
It almost would have been too much of a stretch to think that first-year Indians manager Terry Francona would get the chance to face the Red Sox -- the team he used to manage -- in the playoffs.
In 2011, Francona’s Boston squad dropped 18 of its last 24 games to blow a nine-game lead in the wild card race. Just like this year, it was the Rays who ultimately contributed to ending Francona’s season.
Despite the season ending for Cleveland, the team should be proud of its 2013 accomplishments. Just look where the team was last year: 68-94, in fourth place in the AL Central and just two games ahead of the pitiful 2012 Minnesota Twins.
Meanwhile, this season the team finished 92-70, a 24-game improvement from last season. And they were able to do that this season without a pitcher who won 15 games and without a hitter who drove in 100 runs.
Instead, it was a combined team effort that propelled the Indians this season. It really was a team of role players like Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley leading the way offensively and Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson and Corey Kluber pacing the team on the mound.
What really kept the Indians alive was that they won the games they were supposed to win. The team was actually 36-52 this year against teams with winning records. But in a division with weak links like the Twins and Chicago White Sox, Cleveland took full advantage, especially in September.
With the Detroit Tigers built for success for at least the next few seasons, the Indians cannot simply expect that this year’s success will automatically translate into next season. Maybe a few offseason acquisitions could put this team back into the postseason next year.
The city of Cleveland deserves a winner. Ever since LeBron James left for the Miami Heat, the Cavaliers have been virtually irrelevant, and despite winning three games in a row, the Browns are not exactly taking the NFL by storm.
So that leaves the Indians as the city’s savior. This year was a preview of what’s in store, and the franchise has to be content with the positive strides it took this season.
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