The Cleveland Indians are headed to their first World Series since 1997. A mere 19 years have separated Cleveland’s last two trips to the fall classic. A lot has happened since then…
Derek Jeter has come and gone. The Expos relocated to Washington to become the Nationals. Interleague has become a staple in every team’s schedule. Replay established itself as a game changer, dictating the outcome of a handful of games. The steroid era was a welcomed resurgence in popularity only to later be seen as a dark hour in baseball history.
One piece of baseball history that has not changed since 1997, or 1907 for that matter, is that the Cubs still have not won a World Series title.
In a town still in awe over LeBron James and its NBA championship, the Cleveland Indians are looking to add another title to the newest city of champions. What was once the longest drought for a city to go without winning a pro sports title, Cleveland is on the verge of becoming Titletown.
The Indians reached the playoffs by dominating the AL Central division, going 94-67 and finishing eight games over the Detroit Tigers. They swept David Ortiz and the Boston Red Sox 3 games to none in the ALDS. One win was all the Toronto Blue Jays could muster as Cleveland won the ALCS in five games and just missing out on a sweep of their northern rivals.
What separates the 2016 Indians from the 1997 Indians is star power and big names – that may change once this year’s teams has their players’ careers play out. Here is a comparison between the ’16 and ’97 World Series teams.
One of the notable names not on the roster is Kenny Lofton. Lofton was traded the prior off-season to the Atlanta Braves in a deal that brought over Marquis Grissom and David Justice. Matt Williams made the most of his only year as an Indian; he was acquired in a trade that sent Jeff Kent to the San Francisco Giants.
Williams had the third most home runs on the club with 32. He trailed Justice (33) and Cleveland favorite Jim Thome (40). A future 500 home run club member was just starting out his career with an early 25 home run season – Manny Ramirez. Catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. had 21 homers, followed by Brian Giles with 17 and Grissom with 12. Aging veteran Tony Fernandez contributed 11 home runs, and the only regular starter not to have double-digit homers was defensive guru Omar Vizquel.
The Florida Marlins, who defeated the Indians in the 1997 World Series, had a young phenom who is now at the back end of his career. Miguel Cabrera was would have been a great addition to anyone’s baseball fantasy keeper league, if they had existed back then. Another player in the World Series who is still playing was Bartolo Colon. At 24 years of age, he was 4-7 with a 5.65 ERA for the Indians in the regular season.
The rest of the Cleveland pitching staff consisted of 15-game winner Charles Nagy, seasoned vet Orel Hershiser, Chad Ogea, and rookie Jaret Wright. Jose Mesa was the big name closer, but he had only one more save than fellow closer/reliever Michael Jackson.
Manager Mike Hargrove was in the midst of a great run with the Indians, winning two AL pennants in three seasons. He had an excellent mix of young talent and veteran leadership, but he was never able to finish the job and win the World Series.
Fast forward to 2016. The names are not nearly as recognizable, whether it is because the players are still too young or have not had prosperous careers and overwhelming statistics. Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana each belted 34 home runs. Jason Kipnis rounded out the top three with 23 homers. No other player had more than 15. This could be because of the inflated numbers of the Steroid Era, or it could be because the long ball wasn’t the game plan for the Cleveland Indians reaching the World Series.
Home runs were the end all for the Toronto Blue Jays, whom the Indians defeated four games to one. Power hitters Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson, and Michael Saunders went cold in the ALCS and couldn’t find a way to score when the ball wasn’t leaving the yard. It may have worked over the course of 162 games and one round of the playoffs, but to live and die by the long ball is a dangerous path.
The rest of the current Indians consist of players such as Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jose Ramirez, and Roberto Perez (who replaced the injured Yan Gomes). None of those names jumps out, but an up and coming player who could be a future superstar is shortstop Francisco Lindor.
Cleveland’s pitching staff is a little more star studded with Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Trevor Bauer was the 3rd overall pick in 2011. Andrew Miller was the 6th pick in 2006, but is on his 6th team and has only recently developed into the type of dominant pitcher who wins the ALCS MVP award. Danny Salazar isn’t playing in the post season, but is only 26 and has been in the Indians’ organization for 10 years already as a free agent signee out of the Dominican Republic.
If you pitted the 1997 Indians against the 2016 Indians, the favorite would probably be the ’97 team because of their potent offense. However, that’s exactly why the Toronto Blue Jays were favored to win this year’s ALCS and they went home early. I think the ’16 Indians squad would do the same thing they did to the Blue Jays and limit their opponent’s offense and win close ball games. The 1997 Indians lost in seven games but still scored 44 runs in the series. This year’s Cleveland pitching staff would do a better job of keeping the runs in check and making every ball game winnable for the present squad.
There may not be a way to see the actual results of a 1997 Cleveland Indians vs. 2016 Cleveland Indians matchup (outside of simulations based on thousands of algorithms). The players are at least of comparable statistics and competition as opposed to say… a matchup of the Cubs and their last World Series team.