It's been a bad year for Cleveland Indians fans.
Most of us Tribe faithful had low expectations when the season began. This was supposed to be a transition year, as the fruits of one of the deepest farm systems in the game got their first taste of the big leagues.
But even if they weren't supposed to be serious contenders, it's hard to see the Indians flailing behind even the Kansas City Royals in the basement of the AL Central without wondering how things went this wrong.
It wasn't just the kids' growing pains that sent the season off the rails—it was consistent ineptitude from the established veterans who were supposed to set good examples for their whippersnapper teammates.
Face-of-the-franchise Grady Sizemore got bitten by the injury bug again in 2010, (not that he did the team much good when he was healthy). Travis Hafner continued his decline, and guys like Jhonny Peralta, Luis Valbuena, and David Huff all were mediocre at best.
And yet, buried somewhere in the metaphorical pile of vomit that has been the Indians' season (I don't think that really makes sense, but it's a fitting image) there have been some things that should make us Tribe fans feel hopeful and—dare I say?—proud.
Here are 10 reasons why Cleveland still rocks.
Towards the end of Eric Wedge's tenure with the team, watching an Indians game meant keeping one eye on the dugout, anticipating his next self-destructive decision.
He left some pitchers in too long, and took some out too soon. He started Grady Sizemore in the leadoff spot and started Jhonny Peralta, period. It wasn't a question of if he would make a mistake, but a matter of when.
Manny Acta hasn't been perfect. He's had his share of screw-ups, as all managers are wont to do, and until he was traded, he let Peralta keep his starting job. But for the first time in years, there have been times this season where I forgot about the man in the clubhouse with his arms crossed—to me, that's the mark of a good manager.
Think of the best skippers in the game: guys like Ron Washington, Ron Gardenhire, and Bobby Cox. How often do you hear about them, aside from the various commemorations of Cox' final season?
No, the ones we read about the in the papers are the Dusty Bakers and Jerry Manuels, the managers who run their young hurlers' arms into the ground or force their relief ace to enter a game after throwing 100-plus pitches in the bullpen. For managers, inconspicuousness is a good thing.
Three years ago, Fausto Carmona was on top of the world. At the ripe age of 23, he won 19 games with a 3.06 ERA, leading the Indians to a playoff berth and receiving significant support for the AL Cy Young.
By the end of last season, the tables had turned. His career was in jeopardy after posting a 5.89 ERA, and walking more than he struck out in 2008-09.
Let's be clear: Carmona isn't as good as his 3.79 ERA would suggest. His superficial statistics are buoyed by a .285 BABIP and a 7.7 percent HR/FB rate.
Still, he's definitely improved from last year. He's regained control of his walk rate (3.1 BB/9, down from 5.3 last year), and a strong batted-ball profile has helped him to a 3.65 tERA.
He may never be an ace again, but he's at least regained his status as a serviceable starter.
Jhonny Peralta, Russell Branyan, Austin Kearns, Kerry Wood, and Jake Westbrook—what do they have in common?
All are veterans who opened the season on Cleveland's roster. All are useful role players, but none were of use to a last-place team. All are set to be free agents at the end of the season, and none of them figured into the Indians' long-term plans. And so, all were traded before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
This seemingly annual fire sale is an infamous tradition among Cleveland fans, but the truth is, we really did well this year.
We didn't get any highly-touted prospects in exchange for our spare parts (we had no Cliff Lees or Victor Martinezes to offer this season), but that's okay, because nothing any of them would have done over the course of the rest of the season would have mattered.
If one of the players we received in these deals ends up pinch-running or throwing an inning of middle relief in the 2013 World Series and then retires, he will have done more good for the franchise than all five of these guys would have over the last two months combined.
But even if we didn't get a Carlos Santana or Nick Hagadone this time around, the trades the Indians made could still end up being boons for our future lineups and rotations.
We didn't get Geovany Soto, but we did get Giovanni Soto from the Tigers in the Jhonny Peralta deal. In 159.1 minor-league innings, the 19-year-old southpaw has posted a 2.43 ERA and a 2.57 K:BB ratio.
From the Yankees, we received 22-year-old Zach McAllister, the Bombers' third-round pick in the 2006 draft. At first glance, he's not much to get excited about (9-12, 5.29 ERA at Triple-A this year), but this is a guy who posted a 2.15 ERA from 2008-09. He's got time to right the ship.
Throw in Corey Kluber, Ezequiel Carrera, and Juan Diaz, and chances are, someone will turn out to be a solid MLB player.
After spending the majority of the last decade in one rebuilding cycle or another, Indians fans are pretty jaded with respect to minor-league success and promises of future talent. But in the case of Jared Goedert, I think we can make an exception.
Starting the season with Double-A Akron, Goedert tore the cover off the ball, posting a .325/.382/.540 slashline in 44 games.
He was promoted to Triple-A Columbus, where he proceeded to crank the power up to a whole new level. In exactly half an MLB season's worth of games there, he cranked 20 homers with 51 RBI, while also posting an impressive 10.2-percent walk rate.
Goedert's explosion didn't come completely out of Narnia. In 2007, he racked up 20 homers and 74 RBI with a 1.020 OPS for Single-A Lake County and High-A Kinston.
But before you get too excited, consider: he's had two mediocre seasons between now and his last surge, he turns 26 next season, and his defense might be even worse than the last guy who manned the hot corner.
By late June, with the two-year anniversary of the infamous CC Sabathia trade looming, most Indians fans had lost patience with Matt LaPorta.
The centerpiece of the much-ballyhooed return package for our departed ace started the season in a slump...and then couldn't snap out of it. On June 6—two months after Opening Day—LaPorta had one homer, seven RBI, and a meager .567 OPS.
And so, the man who was prophesied to anchor the Indians' lineup for years to come was sent back to the minors to retool his approach. And it worked.
In his first 19 games since returning from Columbus, LaPorta tore opposing pitchers to pieces, smashing four homers with 12 RBI and a scintillating .353/.421/.618 slashline. For the first time, we got an extended glimpse of the potential he was supposed to have.
Of course, good things don't last for Indians players; he's hit just .168 since July 23.
Three months isn't nearly enough time to adequately judge a draft. And yet, I can say without hesitation that things look good for the amateur players the Indians inked this summer.
It all started with Drew Pomeranz, the No. 5 overall pick and the consensus top college arm in the draft. He has the stuff to be an ace.
Next, the Tribe picked Levon Washington, a toolsy second baseman who was chosen in the first round last year but went unsigned. Also notable: athletic shortstop Tony Wolters (third round), Cleveland-native catcher Alex Lavisky (eighth round), and Robbie Aviles, a pitcher with first-round stuff whose Tommy John surgery caused him to fall through the ranks.
All in all, the Indians signed their first 14 picks—a great success by any measure. There are obviously no guarantees about their futures, but there's no question that the Indians got some of the highest-ceiling players available.
For most of the last 20 years, the Indians have been an offense-heavy franchise. They've put together a handful of solid rotations in that span, but the dynasty of the 90's was founded on guys like Jim Thome and Kenny Lofton, not Charles Nagy and Dave Burba.
That could change soon, as a plethora of young pitchers have taken major steps forward in 2010.
First and foremost is Carlos Carrasco, acquired from the Phillies in last year's Cliff Lee trade. He's been phenomenal in 32.2 MLB innings this year, posting a 3.03 ERA and a 24:10 K:BB ratio.
Meanwhile, Chris Perez has quietly had a phenomenal season. He settled down quickly after a rough start to the season; his ERA since April 17 is just 1.40. He hasn't lost a game since May 5, and he hasn't given up a run since August 6.
Throw in encouraging performances from Justin Masterson, Frank Herrmann, Justin Germano, Josh Tomlin, and Jeanmar Gomez, and pitching may soon be the Indians' strength.
Any Cleveland fan will tell you that Shin-Soo Choo is the best player no one talks about. But even those of us who see him on a regular basis might not appreciate just how phenomenal he is.
You can mention that he just joined the 20/20 club again, or that, with his great glove and cannon arm, he's a true five-tool player. But even that doesn't do him justice.
According to Baseball-Reference.com's WAR figures, Choo has been worth 6.4 wins this season, making him the fifth-best player in baseball. Take a minute to let that soak in.
Compare Choo's 6.4 figure to Josh Hamilton's 6.0, Albert Pujols' 6.0, and Joey Votto's 5.7. See what I'm talking about?
Is that a tad generous? Probably, yeah. But it's pretty clear that the Indians' struggles have nothing to do with a lack of star power.
He played in just 46 games. He got just 150 at-bats. And now his season is over, thanks to the overly aggressive baserunning of Red Sox outfielder Ryan Kalish.
But what he did in that short amount of time was so incredible that he gets not only the top spot on this list, but also an exclamation point after his name.
You want power? He knocked 19 extra-base hits and posted a .207 ISO. A good arm? He threw out 12 baserunners, and there's no question he has a cannon arm. Speed? He even picked up three swiped bags.
But the most amazing thing about Santana's success—more inspiring even than the fact that he did all this as a catcher—is his exceptional plate discipline. He walked more (37) than he struck out (29), drawing free passes a in a whopping 19.3 percent of his plate appearances. That's insane for anyone, let alone a 24-year-old.
His keen eye helped him to post a phenomenal .401 OBP, which would be the fourth-best in the league if he had enough at-bats to qualify.This in spite of an unfortunate .277 BABIP.
Santana posted 2.0 WAR in those 46 games—roughly a third of the playing time he would get in a full season—meaning he's a six-win player even before he hits his prime.
Indians fans, our savior has arrived.