Welcome to the American League Central Division, home of the Cleveland Indians. Each year, one team from this division is selected completely at random to compete in the playoffs. If you are a fan of a team in the AL Central, where chaos rules, nothing surprises you. You would not be surprised, for example, to find out during a late-season series that your team is not full of big beefy baseball boys with pistons for muscles and chins that could bore through granite, but instead is actually a team of horses wearing baseball jerseys and papier-mâché masks who had, until now, sort of lucked their way into first place. You don’t spend much time thinking about the mechanics of how these horses put together such a successful year of pitching and batting and fielding. You don’t wonder where the real players are being held captive by a dark cabal of villain horses. You simply shrug, accept it, and lay down in a field so the vicious teeth of the impending Midwestern winter can take you away.
This year, the forces of chaos have conspired to make the Cleveland Indians the randomly selected AL Central team of destiny. They have donned dazzling silken playoff gowns and they are ready to be noticed.
So far as I can, tell this is a team of real human men and not impostor horses wearing masks. These men have hope and dreams. They each have a favorite soap brand. Some of these men feel passionate about certain types of music, I’m sure. I imagine at least one of them is a huge fan of soup as a meal and the others will sometimes jokingly say to the one that likes soup, “But soup isn’t a full meal! It doesn’t fill me up!” And the guy that really likes soup will just shake his head, smile, and maintain his position because he is who he is and that’s great. I admire that guy.
As far as a “baseball identity,” this is a team that has consistently performed well in a variety of important baseball categories all year. The Indians apply constant offensive pressure. They smash the pea all over the park, get on base, steal bases, and score runs at a good clip. They have beefboys who hit for power like Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli, and nimble princes who get on base and cause all sorts of trouble, like Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Rajai Davis led the AL with 43 acts of base theft and helped make the Indians a top-five team in overall stolen bases. In the AL, only their ALDS opponent, the Boston Red Sox, scored more runs.
The Indians also play solid defense. Francisco Lindor is incredibly fun to watch at short. They have a capable outfield that also produces at the plate. Their first baseman, Mike Napoli, has the look of a man who will occasionally pick up a motorcycle and eat it, which is an important look to cultivate.
The Indians pitched pretty well, too, but several key contributing pitchers have been submerged into tanks of amniotic fluid to heal their shattered bodies. Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are done. The team’s ace, Corey Kluber, is coming off a quad strain and will certainly be the most important component of the three-man rotation the Indians plan to use against Boston.
In the end, perhaps the most defining aspect of the Cleveland Indians is that they’ve been fairly comfortably in first place since June and they’ve still managed to put together the third-lowest attendance numbers in the league. Perhaps that’s a function of the Cavaliers-induced pleasure coma that fogged the city all summer. Or, perhaps it is a function of the team’s AL Central identity and everything is happening according to some grand chaotic plan. Fly under everyone’s radar, including your own fans, until you can reach out and grab the Commissioner’s Trophy and scuttle back into the void.
You should know at least one beefboy and one nimble prince. A good beefboy to know about is first baseman Mike Napoli. He slapped 34 home runs and he warms up by throwing compact cars into Lake Erie. The nimble prince you should follow is Francisco Lindor, who is a magical and mischievous baseball sprite. He’s only 23. He’s a supremely competent switch hitter who hits for a high average, and batting isn’t even the best part of his game. He is perhaps the best defensive shortstop in the major leagues. He is rangy and silky smooth and he shows genuine joy when he ruins the fun of opposing batters. If the Cleveland Indians were the Avengers, Mike Napoli would be the brute that throws Francisco Lindor across the field of battle onto the Big Bad Guy’s head, where he would cavort in destroying the monster from the inside out.
Perhaps you shouldn’t! What people are expecting here is some droopy bullshit about Cleveland being bad at stuff and mired in inadequacy. When you look at any given field of playoff contenders and you see that Cleveland is one of the teams, I think the general reaction for fans with no horse in the race is to consider giving Cleveland the pity vote on account of the feeling that everyone and everything in Cleveland is sort of sad and deserving. I’m here to release you from that feeling. It is a confused and meaningless feeling. Cleveland does not need your sympathy.
If you’re going to root for Cleveland, do so because this is a pretty fun team that randomly coalesced at the right time, as is befitting of any good AL Central team. If you’re going to root for Cleveland, do it because not a single player on this team is a horse pretending to be a human.
Rom Romberts is Ryan Sullivan, a nimble prince who tries his very best and is a proud Clevelander by way of Chicago. He tweets poorly @RomRomberts.