April 19, 2014

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Chris Assenheimer: Plenty of reasons for Indians’ collapse

Are you still trying to figure out how the Indians committed the abominable act of squandering a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series, and attempting to come to grips with the fact that they won’t be playing in the World Series?
Let me give you a hand.
They got absolutely nothing from their top two starting pitchers, Cy Young candidates C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona.
Needing just one win between the two of them for their team to win the pennant and play for a world championship, the two big guns fired monumental blanks and failed to get a victory in four starts. Instead of standing strong in pressure situations, as they had done over and over during the regular season, these two buckled.
If you’re searching for the biggest reason the Indians aren’t preparing for Colorado, the duo’s poor effort is as good as any.  
After Game 4 they stopped hitting.
Cleveland thumped Boston pitching for 27 runs through the first four games of the series, chasing three straight starting pitchers before five innings, something that hadn’t happened to the Red Sox all year. From there, the bats went silent and the Indians were outscored 30-5 over the final three games.
Cleveland hitters who looked so confident and comfortable through the first four games appeared nervous, and pressed when it mattered most.
Josh Beckett owned them.
The ALCS MVP not only got his team off to a 1-0 start in the series, he saved the season with a dominant performance in Game 5 at Jacobs Field that sent things back to Boston.
In head-to-head matchups with Sabathia, it was Beckett who pitched like the true ace. He might win it anyway, but if Cy Young voting had not taken place prior to the postseason, Beckett would be a lock.
Pronk was pitiful.
One of the Indians’ most potent offensive weapons, Travis Hafner, was limited to a sub-.200 batting average and totally disappeared when his team needed him most. His double in the fourth inning of Game 7 was the only hit he produced in his final 19 at-bats, striking out a mind-boggling 11 times over that span.
Hafner wasn’t just bad. He was terrible.
Grady wasn’t much better. With Hafner in the tank, the Indians needed offensive production from someone else, but their catalyst, Sizemore, like his team, faded down the stretch.
He had one big game the entire series (Game 2), and went hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position. He also cost the Indians with a rare defensive lapse on a diving attempt in a potential clinching situation in Game 5.
They were too inexperienced.
Being young and unseasoned in the playoffs didn’t hurt the Indians against the Yankees, mostly because the Yankees weren’t the team the Red Sox were.
It was a bigger stage, one that got more pressure-filled when these little Indians got a win away from the World Series. They were too green to know how to finish off a team in the postseason when they had them reeling.
The Red Sox, stocked with proven playoff performers, weren’t.
They had to play the last two games at Fenway Park.
Don’t discount the edge the Red Sox have on their turf. It is easily the toughest place in the majors for the opposition to play, with fans right on top of the players and dimensions that can wreak serious havoc on those that don’t take the field there on a regular basis.
Fenway’s nuances worked in a negative fashion for the Indians on a number of occasions during the series — the ball bouncing off the camera bay in the seventh inning of Game 7, causing third base coach Joel Skinner to hold Kenny Lofton, the game-tying run, comes to mind.
They had to deal with Paul Byrd.
Byrd’s admission to taking human growth hormone couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Indians, who had lost two straight games and were facing elimination for the first time.
No matter how much Indians manager Eric Wedge and general manager Mark Shapiro talked about their team being able to overcome obstacles and remain focused on the task at hand, there’s no way this wasn’t a distraction.
Going into Game 7 at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox, the last thing the Indians needed was to have one of their pitchers standing in front of a throng of reporters before the game explaining why he took a substance banned by Major League Baseball.
Did you forget where you lived?
Remember, this is Cleveland and this is what the city’s sports teams do — lose in mind-blowing, unfathomable ways that have inflicted cruel and unusual punishment on their fans since the beginning of time.
This is just another in a lengthy line of failures. If you’re not used to it now, you’ll never be.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.