CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona has spent the past 24 hours sifting through supportive text messages, shaking the hands of his players as they head home for the offseason and going over all that happened during his club's unexpected ouster from the postseason.
This season was supposed to end in World Series triumph. The Indians were supposed to be discussing the end of a 69-year championship drought, not dissecting the missteps of a Game 5 loss to the Yankees in the American League Division Series presented by Doosan. There were a multitude of things that did not go Cleveland's way, including roster decisions that initiated negative chain reactions, but Francona still believes in the planning that took place.
"I don't think anybody is tougher on me than me," Francona said in an hour-long sit-down with local reporters on Friday afternoon at Progressive Field. "But we'll never just throw something on the wall and hope it sticks."
• Francona vows to come back stronger in 2018
The Indians headed to New York for Game 3 of the best-of-five series with a 2-0 advantage in the ALDS before dropping three straight. The offense struggled in the series (hitting .171 with a .550 OPS), the defense faltered (nine errors) and ace Corey Kluber buckled (nine runs in 6 1/3 innings over two starts). The style of play that defined the club throughout its historic regular season seemingly went missing once the calendar flipped to October.
This loss was difficult to take for an Indians club that lost the final three games of last year's World Series to lose in seven games to the Cubs. Following that stunning defeat, though, there was a heightened sense of pride over how close Cleveland came to winning it all in the face of adversity. This time, the Indians were healthy, had the AL's best record and cruised into the postseason having won 33 of their final 37 games.
That made this defeat feel more like a punch to the gut for the organization.
"Last year, when our season ended, we knew it was ending," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations. "We were either going win the last game or lose the last game. This year, we expected to be playing more games. The reality is we're not, and so that is a little bit of a different dynamic than last year."
Now, as the front office begins its planning for the offseason ahead, Antonetti said it is important not to overreact to five postseason games, given all the success the regular season brought. The 102 wins were the second most in franchise history. Cleveland set an AL record with a 22-game winning streak. The Tribe had five All-Stars, an AL Cy Young Award candidate (Kluber) and two players (Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor) who could be top-five finishers in voting for the AL Most Valuable Player Award.
"It's really important to distinguish disappointment in the result versus disappointment in the process," Antonetti said. "It stinks that we're sitting here today. We're all incredibly disappointed that we're still not playing, and that's a result that we're going to have to live with. But I am incredibly proud of the process and the group and how we do things as an organization."
Francona said he knows that "it's open season for second-guessing," and the skipper addressed a handful of issues on Friday.
There was speculation that Kluber was fighting through the lower-back problem that plagued him early in the season, but Francona said that was not the case. The manager instead noted that Kluber was struggling with an arm slot issue in his pitching mechanics, a problem that dated back to his final outing of the regular season.
"He said, 'I'm fine,'" Francona said. "But we did notice that his stuff was flattening out, and in a Game 5 situation, you could only be so patient. So we made a move [to the bullpen] when we did. But he still says he's fine. Now everybody gets exit physicals, and you go through these guys pretty closely."
Asked about starting Trevor Bauer on short rest in Game 4, Francona noted that the assignment might have gone to right-hander Josh Tomlin had he not been pressed into duty in extra innings in Game 2. Francona also noted that the postseason injury to Edwin Encarnacion, who missed Games 3-4 with a right ankle issue, made the roster inclusion of Michael Brantley and omission of Yandy Diaz a little more glaring.
"The idea was to be really good defensively and we could hit where we wanted," Francona explained. "As we saw, things unfolded vastly different. All of a sudden, Edwin's not available. There goes one of our hitters. And we didn't particularly catch the ball all that good, either. So it didn't work out the way we anticipated."
Now the Indians have a few additional weeks of winter to plan for another run in 2018.
"We're always trying to learn," Francona said. "I don't think we have every single answer right now."