My barely coherent thoughts on the Indians clinching the AL Central last night

53-28 at home.

46-24 in the division.

14-2 against the Detroit Tigers.

Your 2016 American League Central champion Cleveland Indians.

That feels pretty good to type.

It’s finally official. No more “well if you take away the 14-game win streak…” We’re champs, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. The ink has dried. The visitor’s locker room at Comerica probably hasn’t.

Think back to April. We break camp in Arizona without arguably our best player in Michael Brantley, and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall, so 2/3rds of our outfield. Our starting outfield on Opening Day (take 2) was 39-year-old “right-handed power bat” Marlon Byrd, 35-year-old speedster Rajai Davis and 30-year-old journeyman Collin Cowgill. 37-year-old Juan Uribe, who hit .219 in his final 44 games of 2015, was starting at the hot corner. Mike Napoli came in on a 1-year deal to be our first baseman, questionable health history and all. Ross Detwiler was our only left-handed reliever, Trevor Bauer was banished to the bullpen and Abe Almonte was popped 80 games for testing positive for PEDs.

Then the games started. Byrd had a positive PED test of his own, ending his career. Our pre-season Cy Young candidate (Carlos Carrasco) and starting catcher (Yan Gomes) missed significant time. Our mid-season Cy Young candidate imploded and then missed significant time himself (Danny Salazar), and the aforementioned pre-season Cy guy missed even more time.  Our All-Star left fielder and starting catcher were both put on the shelf for the year. All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy had the option to come to Cleveland via trade but politely declined.

Other than that, getting to the playoffs was a breeze.

Out of all of it though, if there’s thing the 2016 season has taught me so far, it’s this:

If you don’t like Terry Francona and/or don’t want him as the manager of the Cleveland Indians, you are, without a doubt, completely and entirely outside of your mind.

It would have been a feat for him to keep this team afloat all season long, let alone win the division in such a convincing fashion. And for whatever reason it seems to get talked about more than the job Tito did, but the front office hitting on Napoli/Davis/Otero in the same winter is just incredible.

Disagree with a sacrifice bunt. Wonder why he went to a certain relief pitcher. That’s all fair. You won’t ever agree with a manager 100% of the time when he has to manage 1,458 innings in a regular season. But big picture? No doubt we have the Manager of the Year in Tito and Executive of the Year in Chris Antonetti.

I’m just going to talk about some things now.

  • Jose Ramirez, man. Doing what we’ve done this year without Michael Brantley is like the the Royals being without Lorenzo Cain, or the Jays without Jose Bautista, or the Astros without Jose Altuve – for an entire season. Ramirez has basically single-handedly mitigated that loss. I wrote that he was our MVP back in June and I’m even more solidified in my opinion now.
  • It’s weird to say, but Brantley’s injury ended up being a good thing in terms of Jose and his development…I think the same thing about Jason Kipnis. This rest of this is almost pure speculation by me – Kip always seemed like a guy who was one of our better players but not necessarily comfortable in a leadership role. He seems much more engaged with everyone this season, acting as the mouthpiece for the team on multiple occasions. Brantley left a huge hole in that clubhouse but Kip came into his own this year and has seemed, to me at least, to embrace his part in filling it.
  • I’m very, very excited to watch Trevor Bauer pitch in the playoffs. If a guy as competitive as he is retires, say, the first 6 in order? Good luck.
  • Josh Tomlin and Roberto Perez catching fire right now is another reason it’s hard not to believe in this team. You gotta think Frankie and Nap will get going here, a few days off will help them get their legs under them and ready for the playoffs. Tomlin rebounding and Perez heating up at the dish were less sure of bets.
  • Part of what makes this sweet is knowing we didn’t blow things up to “go for it” this year either. This team is set up to compete like this for years to come.
  • I also cannot wait for the rest of the country to watch Jose Ramirez play. Be ready for “Who the hell is this guy??” texts from your out of town buddies.
  • I don’t care about attendance. I don’t care about our owners. I don’t care about newspaper articles.  I don’t care if you hate Bryan Shaw or don’t know who Brandon Guyer is. I’m going to hug or high five you at some point over the next two weeks.

KEEP THE CHIEF

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