The Cleveland Indians kick off their first playoff appearance since 2013 tonight as they host the Boston Red Sox. Ask just about anyone covering the series, and you’ll hear predictions claiming Cleveland will be bounced from the postseason within the next week or so.
Why? A handful of reasons, really.
As we know, the Tribe’s rotation is a shell of what it was just a few months ago. Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco are on the mend, forcing the team to start enigmatic Trevor Bauer tonight in Game 1.
Additionally, Boston boasts a frightening offense, one which could tear up Cleveland’s pitching even with a full strength rotation. There are threats across the board in the Red Sox’s lineup, so mistake pitches will have to be few and far between for the Indians pitching.
One reason why Cleveland may not be getting a ton of respect from pundits is actually a factor not many are noting – inexperience.
In terms of playoff experience, there isn’t a ton within the Indians’ clubhouse. This was the case three years ago in the team’s wild card loss, and it played a major factor. So, if the Tribe is going to defy the odds and make a postseason run, it’ll have to overcome the fact many of the team’s key contributors haven’t been on this stage before.
You could argue inexperience shouldn’t be too big of an issue, considering Cleveland finished the year with the second-best record in the AL in spite of it. As everyone knows, though, the postseason is a whole different animal. Sifting through the Indians’ official ALDS starting lineup, you won’t find a lot of players who understand that.
Cleanup hitter Mike Napoli, the exception to the rule, has 51 playoff games under his belt. After him, the player with the most experience is center fielder Rajai Davis with three postseason appearances.
Technically you could argue Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall have seen what life is like in the playoffs. However, since their stay was only for a few hours three years ago, it’s safe to say that’s not as much as you’d like.
All three starters Cleveland has penciled in for the ALDS haven’t touched the field in a postseason game. The same goes for Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, two of the best players on the roster.
Case in point – there are an alarming amount of major contributors for the Indians who have very little idea of what to expect from tonight on out.
As mentioned, this was the same case during the aforementioned wild card play-in game in 2013, the effects of which were quite clear. Offensively, it seemed like many players were trying too hard to make a big play. Patience at the plate was low, as more than a few run-scoring threats were squandered by swinging at the first pitch. There wasn’t much insight you could garner from Cleveland’s postseason cameo, but it was clear the players just weren’t ready yet.
Three years later, the lack of seasoning is still present within the Tribe’s clubhouse. Overcoming this will be necessary in order to topple Boston.
This isn’t to say you should just expect the Indians to struggle because of playoff jitters. A lack of postseason experience doesn’t guarantee a player is going to stumble in his first game. All I’m noting is that it may look a little obvious early which players have been here before and which ones have only watched on TV.
How the Indians perform in this series will depend on how quickly everyone can adjust to the brighter lights. If players like Lindor, Ramirez and Bauer make quick transitions from regular season to playoff mode, Cleveland could be capable of surprising everyone. That said, if we see flashbacks of 2013 and players trying too hard to make a highlight reel, the Tribe’s stay could be a short one.