CLEVELAND — No matter what Kenny Lofton says, the Indians qualified for the postseason last year.
All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis, who was at Progressive Field on Sunday for the final day of Tribe Fest, sees no reason why they can’t do it again in 2014.
“You brought in all those new guys last year and you saw the chemistry that happened,” Kipnis said of 2013 offseason additions that included Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Bryan Shaw, Jason Giambi and Yan Gomes. “This is just one year down the road. Everyone’s more comfortable with each other now.
“Everyone’s looking forward to spring training. I don’t know if you could say that in years past. You (would) try to be optimistic, but you don’t know with the team you have or the players in the locker room. This year we know the guys we have in the locker room. We know we can win with these guys.”
Not all the guys from last year’s locker room are back. The Indians lost two members of their rotation in Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, as well as two key relievers — closer Chris Perez and setup man Joe Smith. Regular right fielder Drew Stubbs was traded.
But similar to 2013, Cleveland made additions this winter. The Indians replaced Stubbs with veteran David Murphy, who is expected to begin the year platooning in right field with Ryan Raburn, and signed a new closer in hard-throwing right-hander John Axford. They also added left-hander Josh Outman to help offset the losses of Smith and right-hander Matt Albers.
Kipnis, who hit .284 with 17 home runs, 84 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in his first All-Star season (second full season overall), returns to form a solid core of position players that includes Swisher, Bourn, two-time All-Star Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Gomes and Michael Brantley.
And as shown by last season, apparently with Terry Francona anything is possible. In his first year on the job, the decorated manager took the Indians to surprising heights that hadn’t been reached since 2007.
“It was awesome,” Kipnis said. “You want to be playing meaningful games in September and that’s what we were doing. I can tell you from the years before it was a lot more fun to show up to the field.
“You’re still nervous about the game, you still have a lot on the line. In years past, you’re kind of almost just showing up. You’re playing hard, but win or lose, there’s not much to it.”
But like many Cleveland sports stories, 2013 had an unhappy ending. After finishing the regular season on a 10-game winning streak that secured the American League’s top wild-card spot, the Indians lost a one-game playoff, 4-0, to Tampa Bay at Progressive Field.
The abrupt ending to what had been a magical season has fueled the Indians for 2014, according to Kipnis.
“Nothing else to say but that (stunk),” Kipnis said of the season-ending loss to the Rays. “It was just cut too short. But when you step back and look at the season as a whole, we had a great year and a great run. There’s a lot more positives than negatives to look at.
“We had a great year and a lot of guys didn’t even have their type of seasons. That’s what I’m most excited about this year. Your Bourns, your Swishers … there are a bunch of guys that we’re expecting to have even better years than they had last year. I think a lot of us are still excited and happy about the direction we’re going in.”
The Indians’ next destination is Goodyear, Ariz., where pitchers and catchers report in a little more than two weeks.
Kipnis said he is open to signing a contract extension, but as was the case last year, won’t negotiate once the season begins.
“We haven’t talked about it yet,” said Kipnis, who earned $509,000 last year in his second full season in the majors. “I think (the Indians) have their hands full. That will come when the time’s right.
“It just didn’t work out last year. Both sides were trying to get something done. We’re still trying, we’re just looking for the right numbers.”
Bourn was also at Tribe Fest on Sunday. Bourn had left hamstring surgery shortly into the offseason after sustaining the injury during the final regular-season game in Minnesota and then playing in the wild-card game.
“I feel pretty good. I’m ready for everything to get started, pretty much,” said Bourn, who also dealt with a wrist injury in 2013. “I was feeling it a little bit (last year). It was just a year that you had to grind it out and give whatever you can for your teammates.”
Injuries and unfamiliarity with AL pitchers contributed to a low stolen base count for Bourn.
“I feel like I’ll be better this year, as long as I’m healthy,” he said.