MLB – The Francona Effect in Cleveland

01 Oct

The Cleveland Indians completed an amazing regular season journey in the American League this weekend by sweeping the Twins in Minnesota to clinch the top AL wild card spot. The team hired Terry Francona as manager prior to the season and his presence has been the main factor in the team qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2007, when they blew a 3 games to 1 lead in the AL Championship Series and lost in 7 games to Francona’s Boston Red Sox. Francona, whose father Tito played for the Indians in the 1960s, instilled a winning attitude in a club that really lacks star power. Their starting rotation does not have the one horse who serves as a stopper when things go bad during the season, like the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw for instance, or Tim Lincecum with the Giants. Their closer, Chris Perez, was a train wreck at the end of the year and looks like he has lost his job, and their lineup lacks a .300 hitter or a real power hitter. However, they played like a team all year and won together, with different heroes emerging on different nights. The addition of free agent Nick Swisher, an Ohio native, changed the atmosphere in the clubhouse, while Swisher also was a major contributor on the field. The emergence of young stars like Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera and pitchers Danny Salazar and  Corey Kluber all helped the Tribe to a surprising finish that has them hosting the AL Wild Card. Justin Masterson, who led the team with 14 wins and started the season as the closest thing the Indians had to a # 1 starter, may wind up in the closer’s role if the team advances past the wild card game.

If the Indians can manage to beat Tampa Bay in the Wild Card game on Wednesday, it will set up an interesting divisional round series that will match the team against the Red Sox, the team Francona led to a pair of World Series titles before being fired in 2011. As it stands now, the Tribe will go with the rookie Salazar in that wild card game. He has been an outstanding power pitcher in his few starts since joining the team. Out of all the teams in the majors still playing in October, the Indians are the most surprising, considering this was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

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