At the end of last season, the Cleveland Indians had just finished with more than 90 losses for the third time in four years. Attendance was near the bottom of the league and team ownership was rightfully being savaged for its failure to spend money and for what was perceived as a cavalier attitude toward its fans. Many veteran Tribe observers labeled the team’s situation as the worst they had ever seen it - and that’s saying something – with apathy having replaced anger and disappointment.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to this year’s spring training. Two-time world champion manager Terry Francona lobbied for and was hired as the team’s manager, and the Dolan family opened up their checkbooks and acquired veterans Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Michael Bourn, Ryan Raburn, Drew Stubbs and Mike Aviles - thereby totally remaking a lineup that was, arguably, the most inept in baseball and turning it into one that currently is at the top of the American League in home runs. As of this writing, the surging Tribe has won 13 of their last 16 games.
The left-for-dead Indians of 2012, whose last two months of the season could best be described as the Bataan Death March, have been transformed – somewhat miraculously - into a powerful and exciting squad that appears to be a legitimate contender for a playoff spot this year. Now, of course, such an assertion will be greeted with howls of derision accompanied by a lengthy litany of gloom, despair and agony.
And it’s this perennial lament – fueled by the performance of the last two years in which the Tribe got off to a relatively good start only to plummet at breakneck speed during August and September - that will prevent many fans from showing up at games in large numbers. What the Indians must do is stay in contention at least until mid-September in order to establish a degree of legitimacy that will encourage a stronger season-ticket base for the years to come.
Unlike the patchwork squads cobbled together over the past few years, this version of the Tribe is built to win, especially with the starting rotation pitching as it did during the recently-completed 8-1 homestand, when it compiled a glittering ERA of 2.87. If the Indians starters can consistently perform at anywhere near this level, there’s no reason to think that this won’t be an Indian Summer that could last into October.