Well, they did it. Even with all their detractors and the relative skepticism of the Cleveland fans for the better part of the season the Indians finished the regular season today with win over the Royals to go 96-66 for the 2007 season... FIRST PLACE IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL... TIED FOR THE BEST RECORD IN ALL OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.
They did it despite...
...questions in the starting rotation due to early season injuries to Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook.
...a slow start by Westbrook and basically wasted years from Lee and Jeremy Sowers.
...a closer who finished with an ERA of 5.07 (but had 45 saves).
...having bullpen uncertainty after casting off Roberto Hernandez, Jason Davis and Fernando Cabrera.
...having their key OF acquisitions, David Dellucci and Trot Nixon, contribute very little to the ball club except rally pies.
...having their third baseman of the future, Andy Marte, hit below .200 for the year.
...benching their starting second baseman in August due to his poor play.
...having their initial utility infielder hit .119 for the season.
...having their best hitter suffer through an awful, awful year where he hit .266 with only 24 home runs.
...suffering through a awful offensive month of July where they struggled to score 4 runs a game while wasting incredible pitching performances by the starters.
They did it by...
...filling the holes from within via the farm system with Franklin Gutierrez and Asdrubal Cabrera coupled with the return of an old friend in Kenny Lofton.
...C. C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona becoming a dominate 1-2 punch at the front of the rotation.
...Rafeal Betancourt, Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis becoming the rocks int he bullpen the Tribe needs.
...Joe Borowski converting 45 out of 53 save opportunities, in stomach churning fashion, after the Indians barely converted 50% in 2006.
...offensive contributions from everyone on the ball club in a year when no one, sans Victor Martinez, has a stellar offensive campaign.
...the second lowest payroll in the American League.
...everyone playing for the good of the team instead of the good of themselves.
And maybe it's that last point that we should relish. There are no Albert Belles or Manny Ramirezes on this team, but maybe that is a good thing. This team is not full of itself. They don't showboat or taunt their opponents. They just beat them. With respect and class. With all the roster shuffling throughout the year did you ever hear a peep out of Nixon, Barfiled or Lee? No. When the offense went dormant in July did you hear about it from Sabathia, Byrd or Westbrook? No. Did you ever hear anyone complain about playing time or throw their teammate under the bus? No. This is a great team and a great bunch of guys. There is nothing not to like about these guys. In fact with the Cavs deep playoff run and the perpetual Browns Fever that encompasses Cleveland, they have flown under the radar this year. But not anymore.
It time to give these guys their due. The Dolans, Mark Shaprio, Uncle Eric and all the boys. 96 wins. The American League Central Champions. Best Record in Major League Baseball. Your 2007 Cleveland Indians.
Be proud Cleveland, be proud.
Next up: The ALDS, Thursday night, 8 PM, Jacobs Field. New York Yankees at the Cleveland Indians. Chen-Ming Wang versus C. C. Sabathia. Game On. It's Tribe Time Now.