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Not like 2016: While Cubs’ Maddon twists, Indians’ Francona just keeps bolstering rep

In a way, the Indians have outlasted the Cubs team that vanquished them in seven games. They’ve won a pair of division crowns since then, to the Cubs’ one. They’ve cut payroll, not added it, yet continued to win. Cleveland players have lost over 1,000 games to injury this season, too, somehow without crumbling in the win-loss column. Excuses? There are none.

World Series - Cleveland Indians v Chicago Cubs - Game Three
Francona has, it seems, outlasted Maddon since the 2016 World Series.
Photo by Pool/Getty Images

Indians manager Terry Francona is too busy connecting with the world around him — communing with nature, even? — to have an opinion on the seeming demise of his 2016 World Series foe, Joe Maddon, with the Cubs.

“That’s probably one of the blessings of not being on Twitter or social media — I don’t see that stuff,” Francona said Tuesday at Guaranteed Rate Field, where the Indians, who were a half-game out of the American League’s No. 2 wild-card spot with six games to go, opened a series against the White Sox. “I ride my little hog to the ballpark. It doesn’t have radio. I don’t ever listen to radio. It’s probably really healthy, because this job is hard enough. But if you hear noise, it’s noise that you don’t need. It doesn’t help.”

In other words, an affable, charmingly Franconian way of saying, “No comment.”

That’s fine. Francona, 60, has bigger fish to fry, like delivering the Indians’ first World Series title since 1948 to their home city. And if he does it — talk about a heavy lift — it’ll undoubtedly be received as his finest managerial achievement yet.

Even if the 2019 Indians fall short of the postseason, Francona will have a big, fat grand total of zero reasons to explain himself, let alone apologize.

In a way, the 2016 Indians have outlasted the Cubs team that vanquished them in seven games. They’ve won a pair of division crowns since then, to the Cubs’ one. They’ve cut payroll, not added it, yet continued to win. Indians players have lost more than 1,000 games to injury this season, too, somehow without crumbling in the win-loss column.

Excuses? There are none.

On Tuesday, the team (1) welcomed back two-time All-Star third baseman Jose Ramirez, who had been out a month after breaking the hamate bone in his right hand, and (2) sent its best wishes to two-time All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis, who had surgery on his own broken right hamate bone. Yes, these things happened the same day.

And remember Corey Kluber? Of course you do. The Game 7 starter opposite Kyle Hendricks finished in the top three of the AL Cy Young voting in 2016, 2017 and 2018, winning it in 2017. But this year has been all but lost to injuries, with Kluber making only seven starts.

The Indians have only one pitcher, Shane Bieber, who has made more than 24 starts. The Cubs’ rotation was dinged here and there, but their top five guys all started 26 or more times.

So how? How in the wide world of sports are the Indians 64-34 since June 4 — with a better winning percentage (.653) than the Twins, Yankees or Astros? How do they have the best staff ERA in the AL since then? How have they rolled ever-changing lineups out there and kept hitting?

“Because the culture of the team doesn’t change,” Kluber said. “The identity of the ballclub is still the same: going out there and playing the right way and not beating ourselves.”

The 2019 Cubs only wish.

So much of it goes back to Francona, whose reputation as an elite manager really has outlasted Maddon’s. A two-time World Series-winning manager with the Red Sox, Francona is wrapping up his 15th straight winning season. The only other five big-league managers who have done that — most recently Bobby Cox in Atlanta — are in the Hall of Fame.

Not surprisingly, the next pitchfork-wielding mob that comes for him on Twitter will be the first.

Just sayin’

Speaking of fellow managers, Francona is a fan of the Sox’ Rick Renteria. Oddly enough, Renteria’s team has a 9-8 lead in the season series.

“They play us good, man, they really do,” Francona said. “I give Ricky a lot of credit, man. They play hard. They always have. . . . They’ve got a good GM [Rick Hahn], they’ve got a good manager, they’ve got a good staff. We respect that. When you can keep guys playing hard when you’re not winning, that’s a big compliment to the manager.”

— Meanwhile, if the Cubs fall in Pittsburgh and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

— The best baseball writing of the season in this town, right here, by my teammate Gordon Wittenmyer on a lost Cubs season:

“Think the Cubs are done after this past week? Think again.

“They were done seven months ago — if not 10.

“They were done as soon as ownership cut off spending last winter during a competitive window.

“They were done as soon as ‘urgency’ and ‘October starts in March’ became the alternatives to actually fixing a lineup the front office said ‘broke’ and a bullpen that was an obvious weak link coming out of spring training.”

That, friends, is going to leave a mark.

— Want to see Bears rookie running back David Montgomery truly break out? Then pray to the football gods that Mitch Trubisky keeps the ball — what a concept! — on a few zone-read plays.

Yes, Trubisky was injured and missed two games last season after the Vikings’ Harrison Smith hit him at the end of just such a play. But it was a klutzy, in-between slide. So, you know, remember to slide feet-first next time. Problem solved.

The Bears’ offense needs something closer to the 400 rushing yards Trubisky had in 2018, not the measly 100 or so he’s on pace for after three games this season. When it comes to the zone read, productive quarterback runs are Montgomery’s best friend.

Unless coach Matt Nagy’s run-game strategy is to let defenses know what’s coming, in which case, hey, carry on.

— “Ha Ha Clinton-Picks” vs. “Ha Ha Clinton-Six.” Discuss.

One way or the other, Bears safety

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is going to need a nickname after intercepting two passes and returning one for a touchdown in Monday night’s 31-15 victory over the Redskins.

— Hilarious quote this week from Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald: “I understand there are 40,000 experts on Twitter that can call plays for me. My email address is ‘hashtag I don’t care.’ ”

But isn’t Fitzgerald a little young to pretend not to know the difference between a tweet and an email address? That’s a lame move for a Baby Boomer, let alone a Generation Xer. What next? Will he complain about the “hippity hoppity” music the kids like so much nowadays?

• “HaHa Clinton-Picks” vs. “HaHa Clinton-Six.”

Discuss.

One way or the other, Bears safety HaHa Clinton-Dix is going to need a nickname after intercepting two passes and returning one for a touchdown in Monday’s 31-15 victory over the Redskins.

• Hilarious quote this week from Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald:

“I understand there are 40,000 experts on Twitter that can call plays for me. My email address is ‘hashtag I don’t care.’ ”

But isn’t Fitzgerald a little young to pretend not to know the difference between a tweet and an email address? That’s a lame move for a Baby Boomer, let alone a Generation Xer. What next, will he complain about the “hippity hoppity” music the kids like so much nowadays?