October baseball may not be in the offing for the Cleveland Indians in 2021, but this season has had its fair share of storylines. Many of those storylines have come to a close as the dog days of summer have commenced, come of age and have now excited for the more crisp and seasonal part of the calendar that is to follow. But even with literally 95% of the baseball season completed, there are still team narratives with which to remain engaged. For those that love to play out the string, or even those merely looking for a reason to, here are five reasons to keep an eye on the Tribe in their final week of 2021 play.
Can the Indians continue the +.500 steak?
During Terry Francona’s tenure as Indians skipper dating to 2013, the team has only ever accumulated winning seasons. Coming into Sunday’s action against the White Sox, the team is 76-78, a mere two games below the .500 mark. Following Sunday’s final tilt with the Pale Hose, the Indians have four more games with the division rival Kansas City Royals (70-84), one of those games being a home makeup of last week’s rain-out before heading to Kauffman Stadium to complete the season series (more on this later). The Tribe has dominated KC this season, going 12-3 against them to date. Cleveland then finishes up the 2021 campaign with the Texas Rangers from Globe Life Field. While interactions between the Rangers and Indians have been minimal this season due to the unbalanced schedule (Indians won a previous home series 2-1, and that’s it), the Rangers are one loss away from a 100-loss season.
All of this is to say, a better than .500 record is still in reach. In the final week, the Indians will only face two starting pitchers with ERAs below 4.50 (Carlos Hernandez, KC & Dane Dunning, Texas). Their admittedly lethargic offense should be able to compete while their own dominant starting pitching is closer to full form than it has been since May. The Indians would need to finish 6-2 to go above .500 on the season and perhaps finishing 5-3 and landing directly at .500 is more likely, but with a generally weak field of teams remaining and a club of players still auditioning for 2022, finishing 2021 strong is well within the realm of possibility.
Moving from team accomplishments to individual ones,
Jose Ramirez is 4 steals away from his second 30/30 season.
Without a doubt the Tribe’s Most Valuable Player in 2021, he has put up another season as one of the best position players in the American League. He’s currently in the Top 10 in all of baseball in Home Runs, Runs Scored, Stolen Bases and Slugging Percentage while being 5th in Wins Above Replacement. Ramirez currently sits at 36 home runs, the second most of his career and only three short of his personal record. While not part of this particular statistic, he is also only one RBI away from 100 on the season.
On the bases, Hosey really turned it on in the second half as part of an Indians ball-club under interim manager Demarlo Hale that emphasized smart base stealing. This emphasis saw them at one point successfully steal 35 bases in a row without being caught in late August and early September. Ramirez has stolen 18 himself in the second half while only being caught once. With eight games to go, another four steals will be a tough feat but is certainly within reach. The Royals are the 3rd best team in baseball at keeping runners at bay, based off Fangraphs Stolen Base Runs, but the Indians as a whole have been incredibly savvy about running in the second half.
If he can reach this accomplishment, it would be Ramirez’s second 30/30 season of his career, following his 39 homer/34 steal season in 2018. Only 43 players in Major League history have had 30/30 seasons and only twelve had done it more than once. He would join Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins as players that have done it in 2021.
From one of the longest tenured Indians, to one of the shortest,
Let’s get more of a glimpse at Anthony Gose.
Most announcements of a late-season addition to the expanded roster don’t garner their own headlines, but when the Indians added relief pitcher Anthony Gose to the 28-man roster last Monday the 20th, it was especially noteworthy. For those that may not know, Gose is a former Major League outfielder who played for Toronto and Detroit between 2012 and 2016. After struggling to try to stay in the Bigs as a position player, Gose decided to convert to pitcher before the 2017 season. He has been working on his craft in the minors ever since and has been in the Indians organization since the start of 2019. Coming to Cleveland was likely a great choice for him, considering the Indians reputation around baseball as one of the best pitching development organizations in the world.
Gose started making waves in Spring Training with how hard he was throwing and followed that by posting a 3.55 ERA at AAA Columbus for 2021. He also took time out of his season at Columbus to join Team USA in Tokyo at the Olympics, came home with silver and made the All-Olympic team as Best Left-Handed Pitcher. He has already broken triple digits on the Progressive Field radar gun in his 2 Major League appearances this season. Left-handed pitchers that throw 100 mph are hard to come by. Andrew Miller’s 2016 playoff performance is evidence of how impactful they can be. To say Gose is Miller is a bridge more than a mile too far, but even at 31 years old he is an incredibly intriguing story that could turn into a significant contributor to the Indians 2022 bullpen- imagine pairing a 100 mph throwing Gose with Emmanuel Clase and a right-minded James Karinchak.
And speaking of getting a glimpse at pitchers,
Shane Bieber is likely to get another start.
If not for the short outing on Friday night, you would have never thought that Shane Bieber hadn’t been on Major League mound for over three months. The Indians’ still currently reigning Cy Young Award winner deserves a lot of credit for his will to compete and work ethic. It would have been easy to see what the timetable was for his recovery from an injured shoulder, seen what the Indians’ record was and gotten an early start on his preparation for 2022. Instead, he pitched three perfect innings against the White Sox on Friday night on 34 pitches. The team hasn’t made it official, but the starting rotation pattern would suggest he will start again either on Thursday vs. the Royals or Friday vs. the Rangers. There is no doubt the outing will be limited, but any opportunity to see Cleveland’s ace work in an Indians uniform one more time is well worth attention. His most recent outing against one of the more potent offenses in the American League suggests there’s no reason to believe he will disappoint.
And its not just Bieber’s last time in an Indians uniform,
In case you hadn’t heard, this is the last week for the Indians moniker.
Ironically, the Chicago White Sox helped the Indians close out the old Municipal Stadium in 1993 and had also been scheduled to be the final team the Indians would ever play at home as the Indians would here in 2021. However, Mother Nature had something to say about the matter. Wednesday’s deluge here in the Cleveland area led to that night’s game against the Royals being postponed. The revised schedule now includes a 4-game series that begins with the makeup on Monday in Cleveland before heading to Kansas City to complete the series that was originally slated to begin there on Tuesday.
Admittedly, the original local farewell to the Indians nickname feels a little under-cooked considering Sunday’s contest with the White Sox goes right up against a Browns game that is likely to overshadow it. A Monday, day contest being tacked onto the schedule feels even a little more anti-climatic. This can be good or bad. Clearly the nickname change drums up a wide variety of emotions for fans. While the team hasn’t actively run away from discussing its history, with the Indians name, having their final home game not be front and center for the local public might not be the worst thing in the world for those owning and operating the organization.
For the rest of us, it is important to remember this is ultimately just branding. The team will return in 2022 and the laundry is just going to look a little different. For those that care about history, tradition and narrative, though, it will mean something to take time out of your work day on Monday and tune in and/or do the same next Sunday afternoon against Texas. Hopefully this particular bit of history can be more secondary to an Indians winning record, Ramirez reaching 30 steals, or Gose throwing fireballs out of the pen.