I had a bad vibe about the Indians American League Division Series against the New York Yankees before the first pitch was even thrown.
It's not that I lacked belief in the Indians, but I immediately wondered about the wisdom of Terry Francona's playoff roster from the moment it came to light.
The club he put out there against the Yankees seemed a strange mix of hunches and panic moves that progressively took the confidence away from baseball's best team.
Before I filet Francona for his stupidity, I'll allow that he did a masterful job getting the Indians to 102 wins with all the injuries they suffered in the regular season.
But don't give him too much credit for the team's 22-game winning streak. The Indians hit more home runs than the opposition scored runs during that streak, and Cleveland's starting pitching offered a cumulative ERA under 2.00 over that stretch.
It would have been hard to lose a game given that dominance at the plate and on the mound.
Who knows what might have happened this post-season if Andrew MIller had been right, Bradley Zimmer and Michael Brantley had been healthy, and Edwin Encarnacion hadn't sprained his ankle.
But Francona cannot take the bows as a great manager for getting the Indians into the post-season without taking the blame for two epic back-to-back choke jobs that will define this generation of Indians baseball unless they win the World Series in 2018.
The Tribe had a 3-1 lead in last year's World Series and lost. It had a 2-0 lead on the Yankees this year and lost three games in a row, again.
Sorry, but I won't give Francona a pass. Any other manager would get fired for that. Some guys can get you to the precipice but can't get you across the finish line. Tito feels like that kind of guy in Cleveland.
I don't care if he broke the curse of the Bambino in Boston. This isn't Boston. All that post-season experience he gained with the Red Sox is pointless if he doesn't get this team, which lacks nothing, by the way, all the way home.
This series against the Yankees was imperiled when Francona stupidly juggled his rotation at the outset. I know Trevor Bauer won Game 1, but we'll never know if pushing Cory Kluber back and giving him extra rest screwed him up for Game 2.
Did Kluber look anything like the Cy Young Award winner he was all season. No, he didn't. If he pitched on his regular days, I wouldn't blame the manager. But Kluber didn't go as scheduled, and pitchers are creatures of habit. So Francona is open to question there.
If Kluber was hurting, surely the Indians knew that. All the more reason to start Kluber in Game 1 and Carlos Carrasco in Game 2. That way, they could have evaluated Kluber to see if he was able to go a second time in the series. If not, they would have had a fully rested Carrasco locked and loaded for Game 5.
But by delaying Carrasco until Game 3, it limited him to one start in the series. Why pitch your second-best pitcher once and your third-best pitcher twice? But that's what Francona did by going with Bauer in Games 1 and 4.
Before the series started, Francona pledged to start either Josh Tomlin, Mike Clevinger or Danny Salazar in Game 4. The Indians won the first two games and then, for some unknown, inexplicable reason, after a 1-0 loss in GAme 3, Francona panicked and started Bauer on short rest in Game 4.
There are no analytics from anywhere in Trevor Bauer's major league career that show him to be anything other than pedestrian on short rest.
You know who's been pretty good on short rest? Cory Kluber....but he wasn't available to pitch in Game 4 on three days rest because Francona didn't pitch him until Game 2.
If you say, how can I blame Francona for the Indians' bats going silent, my response is, why wasn't Austin Jackson in the lineup more in this series and why was Michael Brantley on the roster at all? The Tribe's offense went into hibernation in Game 3, when Francona ignored Brantley's overmatched plate appearances from Game 2 and foolishly shoved him into the cleanup spot not once, but twre ice!
Yandy Diaz in that spot might have made a huge difference. But Diaz, who earned a spot on the roster with his play all season, apparently isn't a Tito favorite and thus wasn't allowed to join the post-season party.
Likewise, Nick Goody, Zach McAlister and Dan Otero earned their post-season spots with excellent work all year. But when Tito put the post-season staff together, it was, "Thanks for the memories, boys. You are no longer needed here. We're going with three starters out of the pen."
If you're Diaz, Goody, McAlister or Otero, why would you go to the mat for Francona ever again? If you're one of their teammates, how do you not question whether you'll be the guy caught in Tito's crazy crosshairs the next time?
I would never blame a manager if he tries something to shake up an offense in the doldrums if that something didn't work. But I will hold a manager accountable who trots essentially the same group out every game, hoping for things to change.
This club played on cruise control all season until catching fire in August. But it's not a great season unless it ends a World Series drought that dates to 1948.
And just to make it a little more painful, who did the honors for the Yankees on the mound on Wednesday night? None other than CC Sabathia, who 10 years ago took the hill in Progressive Field with the Tribe holding a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox.
Sabathia proceeded to throw up all over himself in a 7-1 loss that started the Red Sox comeback to an ALCS win and an eventual World Series win over the Colorado Rockies.
Thursday, he finally pitched the clutch game the Indians needed 10 years ago.
Only he pitched it against the Indians.
The Tribe is now 3-17 in its last 20 closeout games of post-season series.
That's an egregious record, one that's more maddening than any heartbreaking collapse by the old Browns because none of those teams with Brian Sipe or Bernie Kosar were ever hands-down the best team in their league at the time.
At least the new Browns don't get my hopes up, only to crush them. Their coach, Hue Jackson, is also strangely popular with the fan base even though he routinely disappoints them, like Francona.
While Jackson doesn't have the tools to win at his disposal, Francona lacks nothing. This Indians team had the deepest starting rotation, a Top 3 bullpen, a deep and versatile lineup, and it still didn't deliver.
Didn't even come close.
If success starts at the top, so does failure.
You can thank the manager for this one.
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