This World Series, while spectacular, was always going to end in cruel fashion.
The beauty and splendor of this World Series was simple: two exceptional baseball teams squaring off with the two longest title droughts in baseball on the line — but only one would succeed.
That team ended up being the Cubs, who broke a 108-year lull, the longest in American professional sports.
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The Game 7 extra-inning loss left Cleveland as a loser in both the micro and macro — not only do the Indians have to come to grips with losing a 3-1 lead in the World Series (becoming the seventh team to fall in such a fashion and only the fourth to lose the last two games at home), but by virtue of that loss, they now own the longest title drought in baseball.
That’s one incredible double-whammy.
But as time passes, another truth should come to light — the 2016 Indians were an exceptional baseball team and the 2017 squad should be even better.
And considering that this squad needed extra innings to be eliminated in Game 7 could mean that Cleveland’s now 68-year Word Series drought is in peril.
So long as Cleveland has Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Terry Francona wearing Indians colors, the Tribe should be considered title contenders. Those four are that good, but they’re going to have a lot of help next season.
The Indians had the best rotation in the American League this year, but that didn’t carry over into the postseason, as injuries to Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar left Cleveland without its No. 2 and No. 3 starters. Still, behind that bullpen and Kluber’s spectacular pitching, Cleveland won the American League with what appeared to be ease. And again, despite this handicap, the Indians were right there in Game 7 of the World Series. You can’t get much closer and not win, despite this team being a shell of what it could be.
The lineup should improve as well — catcher Yan Gomes should be back to full health next year, giving the Indians another impact bat in the order. No one knows what will happen with Michael Brantley, the Indians’ 29-year-old star outfielder who was exceptional in 2014 and ’15 but injured in 2016, but Cleveland shouldn’t fret if he’s not in the lineup from Day 1 in 2017 — Bradley Zimmer, the Tribe’s top outfield prospect should join Tyler Naquin on the major-league roster next year, which makes the re-signing of Coco Crisp and Rajai Davis luxuries and not necessities.
The only free agent the Indians need to hold onto this offseason is Mike Napoli, and at age 35, it’s hard to imagine the party starter leaving Northeast Ohio.
And don’t discount Cleveland, which had one of the smallest payrolls in baseball (26th out of 30 teams) going after some impact free agent with that World Series cash influx — perhaps another big-time bullpen arm or starter to augment the team’s strengths. If the money is right, who wouldn’t want to play on this team?
Add in the continued All-Star-level play of Jason Kipnis, the presumed maturation of the underappreciated Jose Ramirez (who was a revelation this year), and Lindor’s ascendency from star to superstar — there’s still so much room for him to grow, which is scary — and you have a team poised to be right back in the Fall Classic in 2017.