While winning the American League pennant for the first time in 19 years is something to be proud of, it’s hard not to be extremely disappointed with the results of the World Series. After losing the last one in extra innings in game seven, to do so this time around is simply disheartening. That being said, please reserve your blame as this wasn’t anyone’s fault.
It would be easy to blame Bryan Shaw, who was the losing pitcher, but consider the situation he was placed in. Brought in for the ninth in a tie game with a runner on, and immediately a Yan Gomes error moved that runner to third. Despite this, he worked out of the inning without the run scoring. He then sat through the bottom of the inning and a near 20 minute rain delay before coming back to the mound. This is on the borderline of the limit that a starter wouldn’t be returned to a game, but Terry Francona was preparing for the long haul and possibly multiple extra innings and didn’t want to waste his last great relief ace.
He threw a ball to start the inning, then one with too much of the plate that allowed Kyle Schwarber to reach, after which the possible NL MVP hit a good pitch all the way to the wall in center to move the pinch runner, Albert Almora Jr. to second. After an intentional walk, he got the ground ball he wanted, it just wasn’t in the right spot and scored a run. After another intentional walk, it happened again. Other than this appearance, Shaw allowed just one unearned run in the World Series in 4.2 total innings and three other earned runs in the post-season in 10.1 innings.
Despite being the best reliever in franchise history in 1995, Jose Mesa is nearly exclusively remembered in Cleveland for blowing game seven of the World Series in 1997. Shaw was never as dominant as Mesa in 1995, but I hope he will not be remembered exclusively for this inning, where one of the best hitters in baseball, Ben Zobrist, hit a good pitch to left to hand Shaw the loss.
The blame also should not fall on manager Terry Francona, who put Shaw in the situation and also made some other questionable moves in the game and series that ultimately lead to Michael Martinez making the final out of the World Series. Francona did so much more with what he was given than anyone ever expected. Corey Kluber was not his best in game seven, but who could expect him to be, pitching on short rest for the third time in the post-season and facing the best team in the National League for the third time in a row. Not only did he not have his best stuff, but the Cubs hitters knew what his best stuff looked like.
Francona didn’t have a choice to go to anyone else. With Danny Salazar a question mark going into the series, he couldn’t have been slated to make a start and Carlos Carrasco still won’t be able to throw a baseball for a few weeks at least. That Andrew Miller and Kluber struggled in game seven was evidence of their overuse and they were overused because Carrasco and Salazar were missing from the rotation. In a perfect, injury free world, the Indians would have went with a four man rotation of Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar and Bauer and Kluber wouldn’t have to have been pulled after the sixth in each start. These starters would have saved the bullpen and Miller and Cody Allen wouldn’t have been asked to throw multiple innings each time out. None of these players deserve blame for their failures in game seven as injuries pushed the Indians to unprecedented levels of use for a very limited number of players.
Some blame could fall on the front office (particularly GM Mike Chernoff and President Chris Antonetti) as the play-off roster could have been much more well rounded, but two players who were big during the regular season made that difficult as Marlon Byrd and Abraham Almonte were each suspended for PED use, making them ineligible for the post-season. While the Indians forged on without both and Almonte’s replacement Coco Crisp performed well above expectations, Almonte especially was missed in the final two games as the Indians lack of a center fielder became apparent.
In the end, the fact that the Indians were able to sweep the Red Sox, beat the Blue Jays in five and take a 3-1 lead against the Cubs shows the perseverance and talent of this team. Despite not having Michael Brantley in all but 11 games, losing Yan Gomes for much of the season and having him play poorly when he was in the line-up, losing Roberto Perez for a significant part of the year and missing starts from every single starter due to injury/over use during the season, the Indians came within one run of winning the World Series.
The fact that all but two (Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis) or three (Coco Crisp) of the current roster are under contract for 2017 bodes well and, while it will be another long season, they have as good a chance as anyone to return to this point next year. Until that season starts, please don’t blame the players or the game, but credit the 103 win Cubs for being the best team in baseball.