What a game. What a series. Baseball fans everywhere just witnessed maybe one of the single greatest games to be recorded in postseason history. If nothing else, we know it was definitely the greatest postseason game Chicago Cubs fans have seen in their lifetime.
As many of you must know by now, and will surely hear about for the next four months, the Cubs have been crowned World Series champions in this year 2016. If you’ve maybe been on an excursion in the arctic or locked in a box somewhere, or both I suppose, and this article is somehow the first piece of news you’ve happened to stumbled upon, then yes, you read that last sentence correctly. Those Chicago Cubs, the same ones who have toiled in postseason misery for 108 years, have become World Series champions. Got the point? Good. Sick of the Cubs yet? You will be — there’s a whole offseason ahead.
However, clearly from the title above, our wonderful readers can tell that this is not a tribute to the 2016 Cubs; this is instead about that other team in the World Series. The Cleveland Indians also put up an incredible performance in the postseason, absolutely tearing through the competition in the AL as they swept the likes of the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays. The Indians brought the fire to the World Series as well, jumping out to a 3-1 lead over the Cubs before ultimately … well … you know.
(Just when we thought the 3-1 lead jokes were going to die…)
Regardless of who blew what series lead, or who managed worse in Game 7, or who disappeared when (NAPOLI), the Indians played their butts off despite having a lot of bad breaks (one quite literally) and exceeding most, if not all, expectations set for them at the beginning of the season. However, in the end, Cleveland fell short of their ultimate goal, and instead they watched as the Cubs hoisted the trophy on their turf. That leaves the members of the Indians organization, top to bottom, with a bad taste in their mouths, and the only question they can ask themselves now is, “How can we get better and how can we make that last step and achieve our goals next year.”
That leads us to the below sections: the Indians wish list for this offseason. Just a few items the Cleveland Indians should have circled as key components to making the leap next year and achieving that championship dream.
1. Re-sign 1B Mike Napoli
Ok, yes, Napoli did disappear during the postseason, batting .167 and recording no extra-base hits while striking out 11 times in 24 at-bats. Not exactly the type of production a team is looking for from their cleanup hitter. Despite the disappearing act in October, the 35-year-old was a key cog in the Indians machine, hitting 34 home runs and driving in more than 100 runs during the regular season, not to mention the leadership and presence he brings to the clubhouse. The Indians snagged Napoli on a one-year deal in January last offseason, but they’d be crazy to wait that long again as power is highly sought-after in baseball today.
2. A healthy pitching staff
The Indians made their run all the way to the World Series on the back of good pitching, timely hitting, and everyone’s favorite, small ball. However, when it came down to the wire, Cleveland ended up counting on Corey Kluber on short rest three times in the biggest series of the year and it didn’t work out. This is by no fault of their own; manager Terry Francona just didn’t have many other options when his other two top-tier starters went down with injury late in the season. First it was Danny Salazar, who went down in early September with a forearm strain that left his postseason availability in doubt, but the Indians still had two workhorse starters capable of dominating plus a couple of other quality arms. Then about a week later, Carlos Carrasco went down with a broken knuckle and his season was over. That left Kluber and the bullpen as Cleveland’s biggest strength — and their last hope. It worked out well at first, as the Indians simply breezed through their AL competition and then had time to heal up as the Cubs and Dodgers battled it out for National League supremacy in an extended series. Then the World Series came along with the news that Danny Salazar would be available for the series, and there was boosted confidence in Cleveland. But Salazar appeared just twice, and both were in garbage time. Going into 2017, Cleveland will be hoping for a healthy pitching staff to carry them back to the Classic.
3. A new shoulder for star OF Michael Brantley
Michael Brantley was expected to be the biggest force in the Indians lineup this season. Of course, that would be after he returned from shoulder surgery, but nonetheless Brantley was expected back to boost the Indians offense at some point. However, every time Brantley started nearing a return, the shoulder would flare up or there would be some sort of setback. Despite the absence of one of their top two position players, the Indians still made their run, and with a healthy Brantley in 2017, the Indians will have a dynamic duo to form with him and Francisco Lindor. Brantley was shut down at the end of the season and is expected to be ready for a full workload once spring training gets started.
4. Extra bullpen help
Cleveland’s bullpen was what kept them in the postseason so long. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen were both incredible, dominating the competition 99 percent of the time. However, as we saw with Kluber, a team can only ride a single player for so long, and in Game 7 the Cubs hitters were clearly seeing pitches from Allen and Miller better, but with no better options, Francona had to stick with his guys. The obvious solution is to bring in extra bullpen reinforcements. Being a small-market team, the Indians aren’t going to shell out the cash for Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman, but there are other quality options out there. Certainly among the options Cleveland could consider are Francisco Rodriguez, Joaquin Benoit, or even Koji Uehara. The Indians could even bring in multiple relievers, as the more quality arms you have the better.
The Indians had an incredible season and gave us an incredible World Series, but ultimately they fell short and now it’s time to look for improvements. Until next year Cleveland.