During the last two seasons, the Indians were that team that toils to roll a heavy ball up the mountain and just as they near the top, lose their grip and watch helplessly as the ball crashes and rumbles back to the bottom in a cloud of dirt and dust.
In fewer than 10 days when spring training begins, the Indians will be putting their shoulders to that ball once again, trying once more to push it past the Central Division championship, beyond the American League pennant to the one title that has eluded the Tribe for 70 years — World Series champions.
Are the Indians discouraged after getting oh-so-close in 2016 and falling to the Yankees in the ALDS last year?
Not at all, says Tribe shortstop Francisco Lindor.
“Every year is going to be the same thing,” Lindor said on Jan. 19 inside the Indians clubhouse at Progressive Field. “We’re trying to win whether we win the World Series the previous year or whether we lose in the playoffs. We’re going to have the same mindset.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to get back and win the last game of the postseason. I’ll be lying if I say I have a little different approach.”
Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to the Indians spring training home in Goodyear, Arizona, on Feb. 14. The full squad is set to report by Feb. 18.
Always a good sign the first pitch of the season is getting closer, the Indians’ loaded equipment truck left Cleveland on Feb. 1. Target day for arrival and unloading in Goodyear is Feb. 6.
“This is kind of an anti-climactic day because we’ve already been at it a while,” Indians equipment manager Tony Amato said before the truck departed. “This is more the professional mover’s type day. We’ve been in the spring training mode for two or three weeks.”
Some familiar faces will be absent in Goodyear. First baseman Carlos Santana is in Philadelphia. Relief pitcher Bryan Shaw is in Colorado.
On the plus side, center fielder Bradley Zimmer is back from a broken hand. Left fielder Michael Brantley is making progress from offseason ankle surgery. Yonder Alonso is ready to replace Santana at first base.
With Santana gone, Lindor, perhaps reluctantly, will be taking on a leadership role among the infielders. Lindor, beginning his third full season with the Indians, is a two-time All-Star, 2016 Gold Glove plus Platinum Glove winner and a 2017 Silver Slugger winner.
“I want people to be in the same line,” Lindor said. “I don’t want people to be behind me, but I don’t want people to be in front of me. I want people to be in the same line because we’re a team.
“We all can push each other. We all can work as hard as we can to achieve our goals.”
The one blotch on Lindor’s record is his last eight postseason games.
The Indians had a 3-1 lead on the Cubs in the 2016 World Series. Lindor was 1-for-4 in Game 5, 0-for-3 in Game 6 and 0-for-5 in Game 7. He was 2-for-18 against the Yankees in the ALDS in 2017.
Baseball can humble its best players. Lindor is one of those. He is 3-for-30 at the plate in his last eight postseason games.
“As a human being you want to help others; you want to help your team,” Lindor said. “It’s tough, but that’s my job. I have to figure out how to do it. It’s a learning experience. The more you go through it, the more it helps. You can’t take that experience away.
“I don’t want to say I pressed. I went through five games (in the ALDS) that I didn’t have success. I would have loved to hit .800. That wasn’t the case. I’ll learn from it, get better from it and try to be myself.”
Lindor has a .293 career batting average in the regular season spanning 416 games. He has 60 home runs and 218 RBI.