After an amazing 92-70 regular season last season, fans of the Cleveland Indians had a fair amount of hope that their team may be back in October baseball this season.
Baseball analysts, columnists, and prognosticators, however, painted a bleaker picture. It was widely expected that the Indians would experience a period of regression this season.
With the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season entering its final week and a half, the Tribe are not even close to the team they were a year ago.
It’s because several key pieces to the team’s memorable run to the postseason (even though it was only a one-night stay) aren’t there anymore.
Entering 2014, the Indians had a pair of key players in their respective contract seasons, right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
Both stumbled this season. Cabrera only batted .247 with nine home runs and 40 RBI before being traded away to the Washington Nationals an hour before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Since Cabrera’s trade to the Nationals, his batting average has fallen to .229, making his overall batting average .241.
As for Masterson, he wasn’t the ace pitcher that Indians fans had grown accustomed to seeing. Before he was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals on July 30, he had gone 4-6 with a 7.53 earned run average, along with 23 strikeouts over 98 innings pitched.
Since that time, Masterson has thrown 28.2 innings for St. Louis with 116 strikeouts, six wins, and an ERA of 5.97.
Hitting the ball has been somewhat problematic for the Indians, as well. Second baseman Jason Kipnis, who batted .284 with 17 home runs, 84 RBI, and 160 hits (34 doubles) in 2013, has basically been in a slump since the Tribe broke camp back in March in Arizona.
This season, Kipnis only has an average of .243 with six home runs and 43 RBI. One can hope that Kipnis rebounds and has a solid season with numbers more characteristic of what he’s capable of next year.
First baseman Nick Swisher led the Indians in home runs last season with 27, and he complimented that with a batting average of .246, missing only 16 games because of injuries or personal matters over the course of the season.
This year was a different story for him. Both knees bothered Swisher this season, limiting him to a .208 average with eight home runs and 42 RBI. After being placed on the 15-day disabled list August 9 with a knee injury, Swisher underwent surgery on both knees August 21.
He is recovering now and is expected back for Spring Training next season, but time is beginning to run out on his playing career.
He’s logged 11 years already, and will turn 34 years old in November right before Thanksgiving. He may retire after his contract with the Indians lapses in two years.
Jason Giambi’s been bit by the injury bug, as well. He’s only played 22 games this year due to injury, batting .143 with two home runs and five RBI. Last year, he appeared in 71 games, hitting nine home runs and 31 RBI, batting .182.
Giambi is turning 44 years old a week after New Year’s Day, and his best playing days are long behind him. He’ll probably retire this winter after 20 years.
The cupboard is full for next season. Corey Kluber has won 16 games this season with a 2.54 ERA and 244 strikeouts. He needs just two more strikeouts in his next start, which would be Sunday, to get into the top 10 for strikeouts for a single season.
Michael Brantley leads the team in every significant batting category (batting average: .321, RBI: 94, on-base percentage: .380, hits: 183) except for home runs, led by Carlos Santana with 27.
Kluber is projected to be the Indians’ top starter in their pitching rotation next season, and Brantley and Santana will probably continue their hot streaks. If Kipnis rebounds and Swisher returns to form, this team will be a serious playoff contender next season.
With the Detroit Tigers at the end of their run as the team to beat in the American League Central Division (and with several of their key players expected to test free agency this winter), the division is basically up for grabs in 2015.
Sure, the Tribe may have not met the high expectations their fans held them to this season, but next year should be very exciting and interesting.