Last year, the Cleveland Indians signed a couple of veterans and hired Terry Francona, winner of two World Series titles in the last decade.
The result? A 92-70 season in which the Indians – with the help of a 21-6 September –advanced to the postseason for the first time since 2007.
They were promptly eliminated by Tampa Bay, 4-0, in the Wild Card playoff.
How do you view that kind of season?
“You kind of view it different on different days,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “During September, when we were kind of running the table, I viewed it as we were having a blast and it was a success. And then you turn around two days later and you lose to Tampa, and it stings like crazy. So you kind of view it different. If you don’t go home on your own terms – and that’s playing the last game – it’s still disappointing. But then you have a chance to sit back and look back on it, and yeah, our guys did a great job.”
Now they just need to do it again.
“We don’t want it to be a cute story (where) we did it for one year,” Francona said. “We need to take that and try to get better. We need to try to improve our record where we’re not in a one-game playoff. Those are hard things to do, but that’s where I start to feel better because I know we have guys in the clubhouse who are willing to work. There’s a lot of trust. We’re not the type of team that you can throw the baseballs and the bats out there and just win a game, but that’s okay. When we’ve played good baseball, we usually give ourselves a chance to win. And when we don’t, we get beat up. And I’m okay with that.”
The Indians will be without two of their better pitchers from a season ago – Ubaldo Jimenez signed with Colorado, while Scott Kazmir signed with Oakland – but Francona is optimistic about the home-grown talent.
That includes Carlos Carrasco, who is three years removed from Tommy John surgery – “He looks like it’s his time to shine,” Francona said – and Josh Tomlin, who is also coming back Tommy John.
The Indians also return Justin Masterson and 24-year-old Danny Salazar, who is one of the top young pitchers in the game. Rounding out the pitching staff is Aaron Harang, who will pitch for his fifth team in the last four years.
“We think we have some depth,” Francona said. “We think we have some guys who can fill the void.”
Offensively, the Indians will rely once more on Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera.
And, yes, Jason Giambi, who turned 43 in January.
“The more he has to say in (the clubhouse), the better off we all are,” Francona said. “Everybody listens to him, including myself, and we’d be crazy not to. He’s worth his weight in gold in there.
If all goes according to plan, Cleveland has what it takes to challenge Detroit, which has won three straight AL Central crowns.
“Until somebody unseats Detroit,” Francona said, “you kind of have to give them the nod.”