The Indians Are Finally Back to Playing with a Chip on Their Shoulder
The Cleveland Indians look like a motivated team right now. Sadly, it's been some time since we've been able to say something like that.
There's no getting around the fact the Tribe spent the entire 2018 season playing cruise control baseball. To the surprise of no one, it significantly impacted how that year came to an end.
However, based on the way the Indians have looked as of late, it appears they're back to playing with a chip on their shoulder. If we're being honest, said chip sure looks like the one they carried during the 2016 season.
This is in no way a prediction that Cleveland, which seemed dead in the water as recently as a few weeks ago, is about to go on another World Series run. It's far too early to make that call.
Still, as trivial as it may sound, there's reason to get excited about this team looking motivated once again. This is mostly because they hardly ever did last year.
Cleveland spent the bulk of 2018 sleepwalking, rarely looking engaged on the field. Since nobody else in the AL Central had a record above .500, the Indians could afford to coast through the regular season. Unfortunately, this malaise carried into the playoffs, where they were swept in a blink-and-you-miss-it series against the Houston Astros.
Things didn't look too promising to start the year, despite such a deflating finale to the season before. Even though the Tribe paid for playing lackadaisical baseball throughout 2018, the team looked just as uninspired through the first two months of this year.
Which is why the Indians coming out of Wednesday having won all but seven games in the month of June is both surprising and much welcome. Where they could’ve seen the eleven-game gap between themselves and the first place Minnesota Twins as an excuse to fold, they've instead finally decided to shake out the cobwebs for the first time since 2017.
As for the 2016 comparison, well, you'll find a fair share of similarities when looking at what the Indians dealt with then and what they're going through now.
In that season, Cleveland was left for dead late in the year thanks to injuries in the rotation and a lineup which looked suspect when compared to the rest of the AL contenders, leading many to believe the postseason was a formality.
This year, Cleveland was left for dead thanks to injuries in the rotation and a lineup which looks suspect when compared to the rest of the AL contenders. By late May, many viewed the rest of the regular season as a formality.
Back then, the Indians used this as motivation, suddenly playing inspired ball in an attempt to prove their doubters wrong.
Right now, it appears they're doing the same thing.
With these similarities in mind, Cleveland's recent run is even more encouraging. The simple fact is the Indians play much better when motivated.
When the team thinks no effort is required, that it can just trot onto the field and win the division by a mile, it remains disengaged. The players convince themselves they can just flip the switch when it matters most, only realizing the flaws in this approach when they end up getting burned for it.
On the flip side, when these guys play as though they have something to prove, they can beat anyone. They look like a team capable of closing what once appeared to be a canyon-sized gap in the standings. More importantly, they’re just genuinely fun to watch.
Which is why this hot streak they're experiencing is so significant. It feels as though the Tribe is finally starting to win with a purpose once again.
I won't lie and say I believed something like this could happen all along. When Cleveland's starters began dropping like flies, I, like many others, feared the worst.
However, based on this current string of games, it seems these doubts weren't shared in the Tribe's clubhouse. Instead, they finally lit a fire under a team which looked dormant for well over a year.