'We'll hurt together': Tribe's playoff hopes end

September 28th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- The Indians did their best to put the last two losses in the rearview mirror in an attempt to hang on to their slim chances of making the postseason. As manager Terry Francona walked out of Guaranteed Rate Field on Thursday night, he said, “Until somebody tells us we have to go home, we’ve got to keep grinding.”

Unfortunately for the Tribe, they learned on Friday night that their 2019 season will not extend beyond Sunday. An 8-2 loss to the Nationals combined with the Rays' 6-2 victory over the Blue Jays officially eliminated the Indians from playoff contention.

“At some point I'll have to talk to our team, because that's what you need to do,” Francona said. “And it's the one time I never prepare, because I always feel like we're going to figure it out. And it's the hardest one, because it hurts so much when you don't get where you want to go. And yet, there's still so much that I'm proud of out there that they need to hear that. ... Like I said, that's the one meeting I don't prepare for, because I just believe in my heart it's never going to get here.”

It was a season full of obstacles for the Tribe. They began the year without Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis. They lost Mike Clevinger to an upper back strain after his second start. Corey Kluber was drilled with a line drive on May 1, fracturing his right forearm, and never returned. Carlos Carrasco was diagnosed with leukemia at the beginning of June. José Ramírez and Kipnis each fractured hamate bones within weeks of each other in September and August.

“I think a lot people talked about the injuries we endured and what could’ve been,” Mike Freeman said. “But I think because of those injuries, you saw a lot of character coming out of guys that will benefit from playing through that kind of adversity and overcoming things. It will help us in the future.”

On June 4, the day the team gathered in their clubhouse to hear the gut-wrenching news that their teammate, Carrasco, had been diagnosed with cancer, the Indians sat 11 1/2 games back in the American League Central. A deficit that seemed impossible to claw back from was ultimately erased in August after contributions from such young players as Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale and Oscar Mercado -- all of whom were not on the Opening Day roster -- and an offensive surge from Ramírez. It was a comeback that Chris Antonetti, president of baseball operations, said “would’ve been hard to predict.”

“It's crazy,” Plesac said. “We've persevered, been hit with a bunch of curveballs way bigger than the game of baseball. I think it just shows how mature [we are] and just how this locker room has a bunch of great guys. It's just been a blessing to be a part of all of it. I know everyone is going to still put the same effort in no matter what it is. It's just a bunch of great guys. They're better people than baseball players.”

Cleveland sat in first place on Aug. 12 and ended the month with a share of the first American League Wild Card spot, but when the calendar flipped to September, the team started to show signs of running out of gas.

An unforeseen resurgence over the summer months allowed the Tribe’s fate to fall directly in their hands, but they were unable to grasp it. After losing a grip on a Wild Card spot over the final four weeks of the season, the Indians tried to force their way into a tie-breaking situation. The team entered Wednesday trailing Tampa Bay by a half-game, but fell into a funk that it couldn’t break. The Indians combined to hit .141 over their past three contests.

“We did the best we could, and unfortunately we didn’t produce towards the last three games,” Mercado said. “I can’t give you an exact reason. I think it just happens. It’s the way things go. You have to accept it and move on.”

On what became the Indians’ elimination night, the offense mustered just three hits. For the third consecutive night, the top five hitters were held to one or fewer hits combined.

“It's been a tough three days for some guys,” Francona said. “You win and lose as a group. And I always feel that way. We've leaned on those guys heavy. I think they're probably dragging. They're about out of gas.”

The Indians knew they would face some problems offensively coming into the season. But their two strengths -- the rotation and bullpen -- started to wither as elimination loomed. Shane Bieber and Civale had uncharacteristic rough outings in Chicago, and the bullpen that had been the best in baseball through July went on to post a 5.11 ERA in September. Now, for the first time since 2015, the Indians will not advance to the postseason.

“You try to be there for guys, not just through the good times but when it's difficult,” Francona said. “When I say that we win and lose together, I actually mean it. They're not just our guys when they play great. When it's hard, like tonight, it's us. We'll hurt together.”