Indians ready to make push toward playoffs
CLEVELAND -- The Indians entered the final two months of this season with an eye on next year. Trades made by Cleveland, combined with some mid-season promotions of prospects, made it clear that the front office wanted to balance winning with planning.
Inside the Tribe's clubhouse, the players had no intention of looking ahead to 2016 and beyond. Now, following four disappointing months to open the season, the revamped and younger Indians roster has steadily marched back toward contention, making the final three weeks more interesting than anticipated.
"We don't quit. We don't ring the bell until we're done," Indians rookie shortstop Francisco Lindor said on Saturday night. "Never ring the bell. Never. That's their job. The front office, that's their job. They've got to look at what's best for us and they've got to look for what's best for the future. That's why they were probably thinking about 2016.
"Us, as players, we think of what we've got going on today. We don't think about what's going to happen in 2016 or what's going to happen in 2017, or what happened in 2011 or what happened in 2012. It doesn't really matter. What matters is the guys we've got here right now and the guys that are going out there day in and day out to give it their all."
The only thing that has been able to slow the Tribe of late has been Mother Nature.
A pair of rainouts on Friday and Saturday halted Cleveland's bid to build more momentum in the American League's Wild Card race. Heading into Sunday, the Indians are 4 games behind the Rangers for the second Wild Card spot with the Twins and Angels also ahead of the Tribe in the standings. The Indians (69-70) are one game under .500 for the first time since June 6.
Cleveland has won 11 of its past 15 games and is riding a six-game winning streak at Progressive Field, where the club has won 10 of its last 11 home tilts. In each of their last 13 home games, the Indians have notched at least 10 hits, marking the longest such streak by an AL team since 1950 (Boston had a 20-game run of that type). Since May 1, the Indians have gone 62-56, following a 7-14 showing in April.
"We were frustrated for four months, there's no getting around it," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "What we did, which was good, was we took that and we made it better. Again, I wish we had been 20 games over .500, which we weren't. Rather than pack up the bags and say, 'Well,' I like what we've done."
Prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Indians traded away veterans Brandon Moss, David Murphy and Marc Rzepczynski. On Aug. 7, Cleveland dealt veterans Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to the Braves. Taking on larger roles were rookie third baseman Giovanny Urshela and Lindor, along with players like Abraham Almonte, Jerry Sands and Chris Johnson. The Indians also took on an experiment, converting former third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall into a right fielder.
On July 30, Indians ace Corey Kluber said, "I don't think just because we traded a couple guys away that it means we've given up on this year."
The Indians have gone 23-16 since Kluber made that statement and the club has posted a 20-12 record since Swisher and Bourn were dealt to Atlanta.
In late July and early August, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti and Francona both noted that the team needed to begin evaluating players for the future. That evaluation period has unexpectedly led the team back to the fringes of the Wild Card race.
"When we started talking about things in the second half, I tried to be real careful in what I said," Francona said. "Because, regardless of who's playing, I never wanted to sacrifice winning. I think it just kind of goes to show you, if you give yourself a chance pitching, which we normally do, and our defense has drastically improved, and when players pay attention to detail ... we've given ourselves a chance to win a lot.
"Would a big bat help us? Of course. But, just doing what we're doing, it's pretty obvious we're going to give ourselves a chance to win."
The 21-year-old Lindor -- called up from Triple-A in June -- has enjoyed what he has watched unfold since he joined the Tribe.
"The things we've got going on right now, it's pretty nice," Lindor said. "We're not only playing for the name on the back of our jersey. We're playing for the name on the front of the jersey. Everybody communicates. ... I think we've got a great chemistry right now. Everybody's having fun. We want to win."