In a sport where there is always a tomorrow from late March to late September, the season ended for the Indians on Sunday in a 8-2 loss to the Nationals in the nation’s capital.
The Indians (93.69) have not gone home this early since 2015 and they did so riding a five-game losing streak that saw them eliminated from the AL Central on Wednesday and eliminated from the AL Wild Card Game on Friday. In a season where the Indians rallied from a 11.5-game deficit in early June to take a one-day lead in the division in mid-August, it was not the farewell they anticipated.
In Chicago, where this final trip started, the Indians were out-played by the also-ran White Sox. At Nationals Park, they were swept by a Nationals team headed for the NL wild card game on Tuesday.
The 93 wins are tied for the ninth-most in the 119-year history of the franchise, and is the 11th best win total overall. Five times Cleveland won less than 93 games in a season and reached the postseason — including last year (91-71) as division champs.
Manager Terry Francona held a team meeting before Saturday’s game following Friday’s elimination loss. He told the players he was proud of them, but also said that they fell short of their goal. He told them to remember that during their off-season workouts.
“Some of these guys we didn’t even know (what they could do),” Francona said. “We learned that none of them will back down from a challenge. Are we where we want to be? No. But we’re not going to quit until we get there. And I think we have guys who feel the same way — so we’ll keep plugging away.”
The Indians played Sunday’s game as if their tanks were still on E.
Mike Clevinger, their hottest pitcher, got knocked around in 5 2/3 innings. He allowed six runs on seven hits as the Nationals ran wild on the bases. They stole four bases against Clevinger and catcher Kevin Plawecki, three of them turning into runs.
“I think it’s a hard game to pitch,” Francona said of Clevinger. “The adrenaline he uses so much isn’t quite there. I thought he did OK. He hung a couple breaking balls … that doesn’t diminish that Clev had an incredible year, especially considering everything he went through. This kid’s future is so bright, and we know that.”
Francisco Lindor, so frustrated with his play on Saturday that he was taken out of the game early, was better Sunday. He was awarded a gift double in the first inning and hit his 32nd homer to star the third.
For the trip, however, Lindor went 3-for-23. He was not along in his struggles.
“I don’t care when it is, I love seeing our guys do well,” Francona said. “I don’t care of it’s Feb. 20 or Oct. 20, I never get tired of seeing them take good swings.”
Carlos Santana, the team’s MVP, literally disappeared on this trip. He went 1-for-15 and made a critical two-run throwing error Wednesday night against the White Sox that triggered the Indians’ slide into the offseason.
The Nationals had the crowd behind them and the anticipation of the postseason in front of them. A casual observer would have wondered how the Indians finished the regular season with the same record at 93-69. That’s how badly they were outplayed this weekend.
Clevinger (13-4, 2.71) has been on fire since July 3. He went into the game at 12-1 with a 1.76 ERA in his last 16 starts. He was working on a string of 18 scoreless innings and an 8-0 record in his last eight road games.
The Nationals put a dent in that impressive list of stats.
Juan Soto doubled off the right field wall with two out in the first to score Trea Turner and end the scoreless inning streak. In the sixth, the Nationals scored four times to end Clevinger’s road winning streak and hand him just his second loss in his last 17 starts.
Reyes, who made his second straight start in right field, took an 0-for-3. But at least he showed up on this final trip, going 7-for-17 with a homer and two RBI. The rest of the Tribe’s regulars — Oscar Mercado (1-for-21), Jose Ramirez (3-for-9, sore right hand), Roberto Perez (4-for-11) and Yasiel Puig (3-for-12), managed to get one out at-bat on Sunday. Mercado hit into a double play in the ninth inning.
They were the fortunate ones.
Francona said he had wanted to keep a fairly-regular lineup in place to start the game — because Clevinger started.
“It’s just about trying to take care of the guys who need taken care of,” the Tribe manager said of how he handled playing time on Saturday and Sunday. “Because Clev was pitching, I wanted to put a team out there to support him. Santana stayed out there until I took him out, and he didn’t have to do that. But I wanted to give Clev a chance to win the game — because he didn’t have to pitch that game.”
The Indians used four pitchers — Clevinger, Adam Cimber, Nick Wittgren and Carlos Carrasco. All them allowed at least two hits, while Wittgren was the only pitcher who didn’t give up a run. Joe Ross (4-4, 5.48) went six innings for the win.
The Indians enter the offseason that could be another fairly quiet one again. The team has team options on the contracts of Jason Kipnis and Corey Kluber, while Yasiel Puig is also a free agent and not expected to return.