How will Indians, Reds recover after three-day MLB playoff nightmare?
Some fans of the Indians and Reds might have entertained dreams of an I-71 series given the anything-goes format of the 2020 MLB postseason.
Instead, those fans now can compare notes from two very different tales of excruciating playoff failure that will prompt questions about their respective futures. Which team was the bigger disappointment?
Cleveland finished 35-25 and seemed poised to at least challenge the rival Yankees. The Indians allowed 22 runs in two games — the second of which lasted 4 hours and 50 minutes through two rain delays.
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At least the Indians hit the ball. The Reds, who closed strong to sneak into the playoffs at 31-29, played the longest scoreless game in MLB postseason history before the Braves broke through with a 1-0 victory on Wednesday. Atlanta closed out Cincinnati 5-0 on Thursday.
For Ohio baseball fans, Wednesday was pain from noon until 1 a.m. the next morning. It was cruel and unusual punishment instead of the intended postseason fun.
The playoff losses will extend prolonged droughts for both franchises. Cleveland hasn’t won the World Series since 1948, the longest drought among any active MLB team. Cincinnati last won the World Series in 1990, but the city’s pro-sports drought is extending into that 30-year period reserved for places such as Calgary, Portland, Buffalo and San Diego.
Those dreams of an I-71 series turned into a two-way nightmare packed with of-course moments both fan bases know all too well.
Let’s start with Cleveland.
Shane Bieber, the presumed AL Cy Young winner, allowed seven runs on nine hits and two walks in 4.2 innings in Game 1. Reliever James Karinchak, who allowed one home run in the regular season, gave up a grand slam that turned a 4-1 lead to a 5-4 deficit. Closer Brad Hand, who was 16 of 16 on save chances in the regular season, blew the save and took the loss in Game 2, a game in which Indians pitchers walked a dozen batters.
Of course, of course, of course …
What about Cincinnati?
The Reds spoiled a gem by Trevor Bauer, who allowed just two hits with 12 strikeout over 7.2 innings, in Game 1. Luis Castillo dealt 5.1 innings of one-run ball with seven Ks in Game 2. Cincinnati pitchers compiled 35 Ks in two games, but the bats weren’t there. The Reds were 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position in Game 1 and had just two hits total in Game 2.
Of course, of course, of course …
It’s not just about the postseason, though. The 2020 format allowed for them to be included. It’s about whether these franchises make the right moves to stay in that picture in 2021.
Cleveland’s multimillion-dollar question revolves around shortstop Francisco Lindor, who finished 1 for 8 in the two-game Wild Card Series after hitting .258 in the regular season. Lindor has one more year remaining on his contract, but he’s a potential trade candidate whose movement will determine the direction of Cleveland’s reload — or rebuild. Judging by his response to questions Thursday, Lindor expects to be paid. From The Athletic’s Zack Meisel:
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That’s not the only pressing issue. Will manager Terry Francona, who had health issues in 2020, be back in the dugout? Or will fan favorite Sandy Alomar Jr. be the team’s new manager? Cleveland has reached the postseason in four of the past five seasons. The window stayed open after the 2016 World Series loss to the Cubs. It might not be closed, but it’s going to take some cleaning if they want to stay in that 90-win range that usually gets teams in the postseason.
What about the Reds? Cincinnati spent big in the 2020 offseason around veteran first baseman Joey Votto, and in a 162-game season it would have been interesting to see whether the Reds were good enough to hang around in the always-tough NL Central.
Bauer, who finished the regular season with a 5-4 record and 1.73 ERA , should win the NL Cy Young Award. Bauer fit the Reds well, but did he pitch his last game with Cincinnati?
“You can’t fault the pitching,” Bauer said after the Game 1 loss, via Cincinnati.com.
Was this a parting shot? The Reds have come a long way just to get to contention, but the Braves exposed a team that had MLB’s worst overall batting average coming into the playoffs.
This wasn’t the “nightmare” Joey Votto was talking about.
Instead, both franchises will resort to that all-too-familiar call of “there’s always next year.” Cleveland will be competitive, but if it wants to stay competitive it’s the right time to invest in a cornerstone such as Lindor. Ditto with Cincinnati, who can make a statement by luring Bauer back with another one-year deal. Money talks, and without it both could fade to the middle in the AL Central and NL Central, respectively, if they don’t shell out.
Now, Ohio will turn its attention to the Browns and Bengals in the NFL — two franchises with well-documented postseason droughts of their own. The Indians and Reds, meanwhile, will move on from an October that ended with a wimper, and into an offseason that could be telling.
But, hey, at least there is something for both fan bases to look forward to, even if you have to leave the pro ranks to find it.
Ohio State football starts in three weeks.
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