09/16/12 3:09 PM ET
Indians fell out of contention in dramatic fashion
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
After pacing the American League Central for much of this season's first half, the Tribe's playoff aspirations were decidely dashed with Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Tigers. That moment was two months in the making, but it served as another punch to the gut.
"It sucks the air out of you," Indians setup man Vinnie Pestano said.
Cleveland entered this campaign with high hopes for contending for the postseason. The organization's job now is to figure out a way to return to that level, and restore confidence -- in the clubhouse and in the stands -- that the Indians can do so some time in the near future.
Given the nature of the Tribe's second-half stumble, this is setting up to be a critical offseason for the organization's future.
The Indians play in a small market and have the payroll to match. The team's top prospects -- the kind considered impact players for the future -- reside mostly in the farm system's lower levels. The core of the big league roster is relatively young, but that group did not develop as planned this year.
The players understand the team's reality.
"We need for the guys that we have here to continue to get better," Pestano said. "We need our core guys to get better, and have better years than this year. Given our team and the market that we have, we have to rely on guys in our clubhouse getting better."
The Indians had reason to believe this year might produce a contending club.
Cleveland stormed out of the gates with a 30-15 record last season before a second-half slide -- mainly caused by a long list of injuries -- sent them to an 80-82 finish. This year, the Tribe was in first place as late as June 23, when the team had a 37-33 record. As recently as July 26, Cleveland was within 3 1/2 games of the Central lead.
From there, the Indians collapsed, going 10-37 through Saturday's action.
"It's a huge learning experience," Indians second baseman 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."
Since July 26, Cleveland has suffered four losing streaks of at least five games. The longest of the bunch was an 11-game slide that ran from July 27-Aug. 7, falling one loss shy of the worst losing streak in team history (12 in 1931). The Tribe allowed 95 runs in the 11 losses, marking the most by an Indians team over any 11 game period since 1938.
The Indians also suffered the first 0-9 road trip in the franchise's 112 seasons.
Cleveland went 5-24 in August for the team's worst record in a single calendar month in team history. Over the past 30 years, only three teams (the 2012 Astros and the 1999 Cubs are the others) have turned a 24-loss month.
"You've heard the expression, 'I spent a week there once?'" Pestano said. "I spent a year in August once."
Over the course of the past 47 games, dating back to July 26, the Indians' rotation has gone 8-29 with a 6.77 ERA (worst in the Majors). The 10 team wins over than span is the fewest in baseball, and the club's 5.53 team ERA is the highest. Cleveland's .205 batting average with runners in scoring position over that stretch ranks last in the AL.
During the course of that span of games, Cleveland has promoted 14 players from the Minor Leagues, cut six from the roster and lost another three to injuries.
Entering Sunday's game with Detroit, Cleveland was 19 games out of first place, and tied for the Twins for last in the division, with 16 games remaining on the regular season slate. According to STATS LLC, only three teams (Angels, 1991; Nationals, 2005; Rockies, 2006) have finished in last after sitting in first through 70 games.
In the end, though, some of the players feel that the way the team fell out of the race is irrelevant.
"It really doesn't matter if it happened the way it did or if it started in April," Indians closer Chris Perez said. "It's still the same record. You are what your record says you are. If we had been losing consistently from April, would it feel any better?
"We failed on our goals this year. It doesn't matter if it happened in July and August or if it happened throughout the year. It's still a failure. We didn't do what we set out to do."
All the Indians can do for the rest of the season is look forward.
"It's important for everybody," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "The balance of the year, we still have mostly a very young team that are looking to establish themselves as Major League Players. Everybody still has something to play for."
Manager Manny Acta said the schedule has presented a good opportunity, too.
"We want to see some fire at the end here," Acta said. "Facing the Tigers, the White Sox, teams that are fighting for a spot, it's going to be better for us to judge these guys, because they're not going to be facing just callups."
Kipnis stressed that the players need to focus on what went right as they head into the winter.
"There's still positives to be taken from this year," Kipnis said. "There are still a lot of adjustments to be made. I still have confidence going into next year. I'm not too worried."