After waiting an extra day, the stage is finally set for the Cleveland Indians’ postseason. The team which just finished up a season with the second-most wins in franchise history will take on the New York Yankees in the ALDS, its first step towards avenging last year’s heartbreaking World Series finale.
Based on most predictions, the Indians are a big favorite to do just that. However, despite the high-powered offense and league-leading rotation, there are many ways the Tribe could find itself coming up short. To me, if there’s anything which could trip this team up, it would be resting on the laurels which came from such an impressive season.
This isn’t to discount what Cleveland did this year. After a haphazard few months, the Indians ended the season on a monumental tear. They finished going 30-3 in their final 33 games, in part because of their historic 22-game winning streak. Cleveland boasts a fearsome rotation, which looks far more potent this time around as opposed to last year’s makeshift staff. It’s complemented by an extremely powerful offense which helped Cleveland lead the league with a +254 run differential.
So, yes, compared to last year when nobody gave the Indians a chance to even advance out of the first round, this year’s team looks for more prepared to go on a deep run. It certainly can, provided it doesn’t get hung up on regular season achievements.
Yes, the Indians won 102 games. They were victorious in all but two of their seven contests against New York. And, yes, they went on one of the most impressive winning streaks this sport has ever seen.
Come first pitch tomorrow night, none of it matters. Failing to recognize this could mean big trouble for Cleveland. At the end of the day, the worst thing any team can do in this situation is assume its regular season achievements mean anything in the playoffs.
This is especially so in a series in which all it takes is three wins to advance.
Should the Indians come into tomorrow night under the assumption New York is already nervous about playing such a vaunted team, they’ll already be a step behind their competition.
If you need proof of how such a thing can be a setback, look no further than how this season began for Cleveland.
This was a team which was one run away from winning the 2016 World Series, and carried itself as though the regular season didn’t matter much. The majority of the players looked uninspired and uninterested, thinking only of October and figuring they could sleepwalk their way to another AL Central championship.
It took the Tribe over three months to get such a mindset out of its system. The team won’t be given that kind of time should it happen in the ALDS.
Opening this series in cruise control could send Cleveland reeling in a hurry. The fact the Yankees had to win a play-in game to get here shouldn’t convince anyone they’re an easy out. Their offense was second only to the Houston Astros in terms of runs scored this year, and they boast a bullpen which could give the Tribe’s a run for its money.
All it would take is a series-opening loss to shift the momentum away from the best team in the AL and towards the upstart wild card club. Previous odds show more than a few teams have struggled to recover from such a thing.
As nervous as I am about this taking place, I’d like to think this Indians team knows the perils of getting cocky in the postseason. These players understand how an underdog can sneak up on someone, as they were in a similar role in last year’s playoffs. Considering they’ve also spent an entire year looking to get back to the World Series and finish the job, it shouldn’t be hard finding motivation to get things off on the right foot.
At least, I hope this is the case.
The Indians are favorites for a reason. However, just being the favorite is never enough in the playoffs. Should they get caught reading their own press clippings and assuming their ticket to the Fall Classic is already punched, their offseason could start way earlier than planned.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook