CLEVELAND -- 2016 will go down as one of the most remarkable seasons in the history of the Cleveland Indians franchise.
Despite walking away without their first World Series title since 1948, the Tribe showed resilience and defied odds on their magical journey to the biggest stage in all of baseball.
“It was really enjoyable,” said manager Terry Francona prior to the 2017 home opener on Tuesday. “I think all along I was enjoying going through it with the guys.”
Michael Brantley’s season-ending biceps surgery coupled with the late-season injuries to Carlos Carrasco (right hand) and Danny Salazar (right forearm) figured to spell the end to a campaign full of hope and prosperity.
Not in Believeland.
The Indians proved this notion wrong by finishing 94-67 in the regular season, sweeping the Red Sox in the ALDS and winning four out of their five games against the Blue Jays in the ALCS. What made the commanding playoff performance even more extraordinary was the fact that Francona employed a three-man starting rotation, including the use of Ryan Merritt in just his second major league start.
Cleveland had not advanced past the ALDS since 2007, a year in which Kenny Lofton, Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore played under manager Eric Wedge.
“Valuing winning more than other teams,” Francona said in regards to why the 2016 squad was so special. “Picking each other up as opposed to tearing each other apart. All the things that we talk about - it was fun to watch guys do it.”
Between the emergence of Jose Ramirez, the acquisitions of Andrew Miller and Brandon Guyer, the breakout season for Carlos Santana and everything else in between, the Tribe solidified themselves as a force for the many years to come.
“It gives your team a chance to be special,” said Francona. “That’s kind of what I felt about that team.”
Moving forward, Francona and company will remember 2016 and use it as motivation for their unfinished business in 2017.
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.