CLEVELAND -- Something strange happened to the Indians in early September. Inside Cleveland's clubhouse, as the wins continued to pile up at an increasingly rapid rate, the players began giving quotes that sounded more and more like words directly out of manager Terry Francona's mouth."The only thing you're really thinking
CLEVELAND -- Something strange happened to the Indians in early September. Inside Cleveland's clubhouse, as the wins continued to pile up at an increasingly rapid rate, the players began giving quotes that sounded more and more like words directly out of manager Terry Francona's mouth.
"The only thing you're really thinking about is that next game," Indians closer Cody Allen said.
"We're thinking about what we've got tomorrow," echoed shortstop Francisco Lindor.
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"At the end of the day, if we're shaking hands, everyone did their jobs," added catcher Yan Gomes.
This was during Cleveland's American League-record 22-game winning streak that stretched from late August into September. It is also an example of why Francona is once again a finalist for the Baseball Writers' Association of America's AL Manager of the Year Award. In his time in Cleveland, Francona has built a culture and established a mentality that was never more on display than it was in the 2017 regular season.
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Francona won the AL Manager of the Year Award in 2013, when the Indians were a great comeback story. He won it again in '16, when the team overcame a heap of adversity to win the AL Central in a season that culminated with a trip to the World Series. If Francona wins the award again this year, it will largely be due to the sustained success he has helped create with Cleveland, which won 102 games and captured the division crown once again.
During Francona's five-year run with the Indians, the team has led the AL with 454 victories.
"He believes in what he does and there's a rhyme and a reason," Indians outfielder Jay Bruce said. "And he has personalities around him that challenge his thinking. It's not just him throwing stuff together."
Twins manager Paul Molitor and Astros manager A.J. Hinch are also up for the AL Manager of the Year Award, while Colorado's Bud Black, Arizona's Torey Lovullo and L.A.'s Dave Roberts are up for the top managerial honor in the National League. MLB Network will reveal the winners at 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
It is hard to properly assess a manager's direct impact on a team's win-loss record.
One could point to a manager's manipulation of a pitching staff -- Francona boasted baseball's best bullpen ERA and a group of arms overall that led the Majors in a swath of statistics. One could note moves based on strategy -- Francona's Indians led baseball in platoon advantage both for pitching (55 percent) and batting (69 percent). Maybe it is moves to overcome injuries. In the outfield alone, Francona used 15 players to patch things together for a lineup that ended this past season third in the AL in runs scored.
"He puts us in position to succeed every single day," Indians left fielder Michael Brantley said.
Often, the Manager of the Year Award comes down to the anecdotal arguments. That might be where Francona comes out ahead. Many of the players inside Cleveland's clubhouse have now played for the manager for the last five years, so they know him and he knows them. There are no surprises. Instead, there has been a galvanization of identity for a team that takes the field expecting to win every game in front of them.
Take care of the task at hand. Worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. These are phrases that begin as cliches, but ones that -- after five years of repetition by Francona -- have taken hold as mantras for the Tribe.
"We say it all the time," Francona said during the record-setting winning streak, "you just want to give yourself a chance every day.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.