CLEVELAND -- The last thing the men inside the Indians' clubhouse need to do is dwell on what took place during this discouraging season. The next step that needs to be taken is to try to learn from the experience, as awful and trying as it was for everyone involved.
"I've had a lot of sleepless nights thinking about what happened," Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan said.
During the months ahead, the focus during such nights should be shifted to what needs to happen going forward. From the front office to the clubhouse, the Indians are determined to sort through this forgettable 2012 season for answers about how to right a franchise that came into the year convinced it was a contender.
The Indians flirted with first place for the first four months before a variety of issues -- namely subpar starting pitching and poor situational hitting -- dragged the team down the standings through August and September. The team's struggles led to the removal of Manny Acta from his role as the team's manager.
Before he was let go, replaced on an interim basis by Sandy Alomar Jr., Acta was quick to point to the fact that, while Cleveland's slide was steep, it was also shorter than it seemed.
"It's been a tough year, but it has been a rough two months," Acta said. "It feels like six months, but it's only been two. ... The pitching just flat-out scuffled overall. That's where everything starts."
Sinkerballer Justin Masterson and starter Ubaldo Jimenez were expected to lead a rotation capable of guiding the Indians toward a possible American League Central crown. Instead, they formed a volatile 1-2 punch that set an unfortunate tone. Cleveland never had reliable starting pitching, which in turn put extra pressure on the lineup and bullpen.
The Tribe treaded water until reaching a breaking point in late July. Cleveland embarked on an 11-game losing streak that ran from July 27-Aug. 7, falling one loss shy of the worst losing streak in team history (12 in 1931). The Tribe went 5-24 in August for the team's worst record in a single calendar month in team history.
It was a collapse that ended Cleveland's concentration on contending this year, and forced players to begin contemplating the next few years.
"It's a huge learning experience," Jason Kipnis said. "You hear it from a lot of people that your first year or your first full season is a big learning experience. I know next year, if we ever go on a five-game skid, I'm probably not going to even notice it after what's happened this year."
In a way, that was this season's silver lining.
"The only positive for all this," Hannahan said, "is that these guys experienced it and felt how miserable it was. You don't want to let that ever happen again. Sometimes that's what it takes for guys to grow up and guys to mesh and figure out how to get out of it."
Here is a look back on the highs and lows of the 2012 season:
Record: 68-94, fourth in AL Central
Defining moment: This was a season in which high hopes gave way to stark reality. That was never more true than on July 26, when Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner launched back-to-back home runs off Tigers ace Justin Verlander in the seventh inning for a dramatic comeback win that pulled the Tribe within 3 1/2 games of first place. Cleveland hoped it was a turning point for the club. Reality quickly set in when the Indians followed with the first 0-9 road trip in franchise history, during a season-crippling 11-game losing streak.
What went right: For the most part, the offensive core group performed well for the Indians. Santana enjoyed a strong second half to salvage his season, Asdrubal Cabrera enjoyed another All-Star campaign, Kipnis impressed in his first full tour and Michael Brantley made great strides as Cleveland's center fielder. ... Closer Chris Perez notched a career high in saves and made his second All-Star team. ... The late-inning combination of Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano and Perez was once again one of the better bullpen trios in the league. ... Midseason pickup Esmil Rogers helped anchor Cleveland's middle-relief group. ... Rookie Cody Allen climbed the ladder from Class A to the Majors and gave the Indians another solid reliever. ... Rookie starter Zach McAllister proved durable for the Tribe's rotation. ... Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo helped breathe some life into the offense when moved into the leadoff spot. ... Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall returned from a fractured right forearm in September and finished the season strong. ... Thanks to its strong late-inning relief, Cleveland turned in one of baseball's better records in one-run games.
What went wrong: The Tribe's hopes for fielding a strong rotation evaporated swiftly. Masterson and Jimenez endured extremely rocky campaigns out of the top two slots and Cleveland cycled through 10 starters during a turbulent season. ... The pitching problems led to the dismissal of pitching coach Scott Radinsky during the season. ... Right-hander Roberto Hernandez (formerly known as Fausto Carmona) was arrested for identity fraud over the winter and did not rejoin the Indians until August. ... Outfielder Grady Sizemore spent the entire season rehabbing from back and knee issues after signing a one-year, $5 million contract over the winter. ... Sinkerballer Derek Lowe (acquired from the Braves in an offseason trade) started strong, but struggled mightily through June and July, leading to his release. ... Perez created a national stir on a handful of occasions with controversial comments aimed at fans, opposing players and his own team. ... First baseman Casey Kotchman (signed as a free agent over the winter) provided stellar defense, but labored through a rough showing at the plate. ... The Indians rotated 10 players in and out of left field and never found a solution. The team signed veteran Johnny Damon, but his woes in the batter's box led to his release in August. ... Injuries to players such as Sizemore, Chisenhall, Hafner, Rafael Perez, Nick Hagadone and Josh Tomlin, among others, took a toll on the team. ... While the back end of the bullpen was strong, the Indians struggled to find consistent middle relief. As a result, small deficits grew to large in-game gaps, contributing to the ballclub's poor run differential. ... Cleveland's offense suffered in situational-hitting scenarios, especially with the bases loaded.
Biggest surprise: The Indians might not have entered the year as a favorite to win their division, but the team was at least expected to contend for a playoff spot. The Tribe's slide from first place through 70 games to the AL Central cellar was beyond surprising. It was shocking. With holes up and down the roster, Cleveland is now entering a critical offseason. The club needs to decide whether it is best served by trying to complement the core again through trades or free agency, or by entering another rebuilding phase.