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Tribe leaning on experience for return trip to playoffs

Club focused on making second straight postseason appearance
Special to

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When it comes to sports woes, perhaps no city has it worse than Cleveland.

The last time the Browns won a championship (1964), Lyndon Johnson led the country.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When it comes to sports woes, perhaps no city has it worse than Cleveland.

The last time the Browns won a championship (1964), Lyndon Johnson led the country.

The mere mention of the name LeBron brings a pang of sadness and anger to Cavaliers fans. 

Then there's the Indians, an organization that showed so much promise in the late-90's but could never get over the hump and capture its first World Series title since 1948. In the past decade, the Tribe has posted only three winning seasons and has been looking for the formula to get back to consistently making the playoffs.

After their first taste of the playoffs in six years, the Indians are hungry to get back. Guys in the clubhouse donned shirts with the phrase "unfinished business" sprawled across the front, undoubtedly motivation to better their Wild Card Game appearance in 2013.

Now once again, the hope of Cleveland fans rests on the Indians.

"I know the fans are excited," said veteran designated hitter Jason Giambi. "There's a good nucleus of players that are coming back after the great year last year. I always say when a team stays together for a couple of years, they always get better and better because of the camaraderie and tightness which works to your advantage."

Giambi, 43, is entering his 19th season in the big leagues, and knows a bit about playing meaningful baseball in September and October. The important thing for the Indians, according to Giambi, is the fact that they hurdled past the "rebuilding mode" stigma last season.

As much as a veteran such as Giambi can try to convey what a playoff team is like, there's no better teacher than first-hand experience.

"I've been a lot of places and had chances to win in a lot of organizations," said Giambi, who's played in nine postseasons with four different teams. "You can't just tell [young guys] about what the experience is like -- they have to go through it. They responded tremendously last year for never being there before.

"When you get that taste of what it's like to play in the playoffs and be in it in September baseball, it's exciting and it's where you want to be."

To go along with the core group of returning players from 2013, the Indians signed a handful of guys over the offseason who have postseason pedigrees, including closer John Axford.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander has pitched in two postseasons in his career -- 2011 with the Brewers and 2013 with the Cardinals -- and addresses a need in the back of the bullpen for Cleveland.

The addition of Axford and David Murphy, who played in three postseasons with the Rangers, shows the Indians are building upon an already solid foundation. Winning and experience bring confidence, something Axford noticed when he first walked into the Tribe locker room.

"There's a certain air among these guys with how they feel about this team," Axford said. "You can just tell those certain things when you come in here, but at the same time it's nothing too over the top or crazy. It could just be that guys love spending time with each other in here. They love being a part of this team,and that could be the confidence in itself."

Both Axford and Giambi have been on the other side of the spectrum, where wins aren't easy to come by. It's where baseball, a game at its core level, starts to feel more and more like a job, according to Giambi.

"In September, when you're not playing for a pennant drive, you're worried about getting a job next year, and you have to finish well because you have to get good numbers," Giambi said. "It becomes impacted with pressure and that's tough to play in especially because it's a game full of failure. It's exhausting.

"But when you're playing in a pennant chase, it takes a lot of pressure off of you as an individual because then it's about winning. I just have to come to the park and try to win a baseball game, who cares how I do or what I do. I could lay down a bunt or take a walk, as long as it helps the team win. It's fun to play because there's no individual statistics that matter anymore -- it's about getting to the playoffs."

The Indians haven't been to the playoffs in back-to-back years since 1999. While there's still a whole season to play, the playoff experience on the roster now could be exactly what the team needs to push even deeper into the postseason.

"Guys are hungry now, and Cleveland wants to get back to winning again," Giambi said. "When I first broke into the league [in 1995], Cleveland was the place to be. It's time to get back to that." 

Ross Dunham is a junior majoring in journalism at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between and Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Cleveland Indians, John Axford, Jason Giambi, David Murphy