They played until Nov. 2, had the shortest offseason in recent history and got off to the kind of mediocre start that had them looking like one of the most underachieving teams in their league.
But don’t expect the Indians to say hangover effects or fatigue had anything to do with the issues that led to one of the top two Las Vegas favorites in the American League getting off to a 31-31 start.
“That’s a cop-out,” Indians ace Corey Kluber said. “Nobody in our clubhouse ever talked about any kind of hangover or anything like that. I think it boils down to going out and playing good baseball.”
The team the Cubs beat Nov. 2 to win the World Series has done that in recent weeks, going 16-9 since that .500 start into mid-June to overtake the Twins for first place in the American League Central.
Maybe there’s hope for the 43-45 Cubs, who have talked about going on that kind of run, or better, since the start of the season. The Cubs’ longest winning streak is five games — which followed a six-game losing streak and was, in turn, followed by a four-game losing streak.
They’ve blamed mental and physical fatigue, an intentional slow buildup through spring training (for at least the earliest struggles), lingering minor injuries and the fact their deep postseason run is actually back-to-back deep runs.
“We’re probably both fortunate it’s a 162-game season,” Indians reliever Andrew Miller said. “I can’t speak for the Cubs. For us, we’re better than we played, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is what the standings say.
“At the end of the day, what is an excuse worth? It doesn’t mean anything.”
Case in point: Miller. He was leaned on as hard as almost any pitcher in the postseason last fall, averaging two innings in 10 games.
But his statistics are almost identical during this All-Star season as last year’s. In fact, they’re slightly better.
The Indians arguably suffered a bigger injury loss this year than Cubs when Kluber missed a month with a back strain. He’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball in his eight starts since (4-1 with a 1.29 ERA).
Maybe the Cubs will get that kind of boost when ERA champ Kyle Hendricks returns from the DL possibly this weekend. Maybe after having only one All-Star this year, the collective rest during the break will make a difference.
“Once the season starts you don’t know,” Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “We didn’t have that great start where everybody says the Indians are the greatest team. Nobody was counting on us [last year] to win the division. We got to the playoffs and nobody was counting on us to win. This year for a long time nobody was counting on us to win the division. Now they’re counting on us.”
Said Miller: “At the end of the day I don’t know that you should [try to] pinpoint whether it had anything to do with last year or expectations this year or anything like that. It doesn’t really matter. We just have to play better.”
Miller is surprised where the Cubs are after what he saw last fall.
“That was probably one of the best put-together teams we’ve ever seen,” he said. “I felt like that’s the perfect team. And they pretty much brought everybody back.”
Lindor said he’s surprised, too.
“But I think they’re going to end up at the top of the division,” he said.
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