The Indians were poised to make a long run into the play-offs this year, the only thing standing in their way being the Tampa Bay Rays and starting pitcher Alex Cobb. As we all know now, this block was insurmountable, but what we really want to know is why.
First off, the odds were against them. Winning ten games in a row against anyone is incredibly improbable and winning eleven is even more so. In fact, ten games was the Indians longest winning streak in 2013 and the longest by any Indians team since August of 2008. While it was necessary to get as far as they did, the Indians would have been much better off had they been able to coast into the play-offs, winning only seven or eight of their last ten.
In addition to just plain bad luck, Alex Cobb matched up against the Indians in all the wrong ways. In general, as a patient team that likes to go deep in the count, but still strikes out a lot, the Indians were easy to take advantage of by Cobb, who had great stuff in this and each of his other appearances against Cleveland. Even his handedness was a liability as the Indians were one of the worst teams in the league at hitting right handers (.247). In fact, a large part of their success at the end of the year had to due with facing so many left handed starters. Against the right hander, the Indians were unable to make use of Mike Aviles at all, while Nick Swisher and Asdrubal Cabrera were forced to hit from their weak side.
Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis deserve a lot of the blame as well, although their failures at the plate reflect very little on their ability as hitters. The Indians number two and number three hitters had chances in pivotal situations in the fifth and seventh innings when even a single could have turned around the whole game. With runners in scoring position the two combined to go 0-3 and between the two of them and Asdrubal Cabrera, ended six of the nine innings.
As has been the case all year, the bottom of the lineup and the Goon Squad in general did come through as much as they could. Yan Gomes and Ryan Raburn reached base four times, while recent back-up Lonnie Chisenhall hit safely in each of his first three at bats. While he did make the final out of the game, it was really decided much earlier when none of the Indians top hitters were able to knock in Chisenhall after he got on.
In the end, the team probably ended where it deserved. From their record against Detroit alone, it is obvious that they were not ready for the big guys this year, but things are just getting started. Kipnis just finished his second season and both he and Chisenhall will be getting closer to their prime next year. Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana should be able to continue their success from 2013 and the pitching staff is only going to get better with Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar around for a full season.
While squandering any chance at a World Series is incredibly disappointing, at the Indians have hope this time that unlike 2001 and 2007, this team could return to the play-offs again in 2014, possibly as Division champions so they can avoid all the one game play-off silliness.