Indians fight to finish of uneven season

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CLEVELAND (AP) — When their disjointed season ended, the Indians didn't agonize over missing the playoffs. They did that a few days earlier.

Following Sunday's finale at home, there was nothing to do but move on.

Corey Kluber took a lap around the clubhouse, the dominating Cy Young candidate stopping to share a heartfelt hug with each of his teammates. Outfielder Michael Brantley packed personal belongings and one of the bats he used to get 200 hits into a large bag and headed out the door, a star born.

Jason Kipnis sat at his corner locker, autographing cleats and curtly fending off reporters who wanted to talk to the second baseman about his sub-par season.

October won't include the Indians, who were overwhelmed by injuries and inconsistency in 2014. One year after a wild-card berth, they fell short but not for lack of trying.

"Enough stuff went wrong this year where winning was a challenge probably more often than we wanted," said manager Terry Francona. "Because of our guys' commitment to just grinding, we hung in there."

Remarkably, Cleveland hung around in the playoff race until the final week, when the sins of previous months — overthrows and misplayed grounders, stranded runners and blown saves — caught the Indians. And although they failed to build off last year's postseason appearance, there were enough positives to give them hope.

There's work to be done this winter, but it's more cosmetic.

"At the moment we're disappointed because at this time last year we still had games in front of us," general manager Chris Antonetti said Monday. "But as we start to transition to the offseason, we have virtually the entirety of our roster in place for next year. There's no complacency, we want to improve, but that's a great position of strength going into the offseason."

The Indians had unexpected highs, stunning lows.

They set a major league record with 1,450 strikeouts. They led all of baseball with 116 errors. Kluber tied for the league lead in wins (18), and Brantley made a late MVP push. But even those two didn't make a difference at the ticket office as Cleveland was last in attendance for the second year in a row.

However, the Indians did epitomize the city's never-give-up resolve. Knocked down and counted out numerous times, they kept fighting.

"I would rather have the disappointment of getting eliminated two days before the end of the season than a month," said Francona, who did another masterful job with his club. "It's certainly not our goal, but I do believe that some of the things that didn't go necessarily as well as we wanted to this year will next year.

"And other things probably won't. That's just the game."

The Indians finished 85-77, giving them consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 2000-01. However, it wasn't good enough to make this fall as meaningful as last.

From the start, there were issues. Center fielder Michael Bourn and designated hitter Jason Giambi began the season on the disabled list. Kipnis, who signed a six-year, $52.5 million before the home opener, also went on the DL and Carlos Santana batted well below his weight for two months.

By the end of April, the Indians were 11-17, setting the tone for their uneven season.

In July, the Indians traded opening-day starter Justin Masterson and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, moves viewed by some as signs of surrender. But despite Kipnis' struggles, Nick Swisher undergoing surgery on both knees and an offense that failed to score more than three runs in 81 games, the Indians were somehow in the thick of things in September.

In truth, they eliminated themselves much earlier.

"Obviously, we're not playing today so we're a little bit disappointed." Antonetti said. "We had some pretty trying times this year and there were times where it would be relatively easy to just let it snowball and say, 'You know what, this just wasn't our year.' Our guys every day showed up and found a way to go out and try to compete in that night's game.

"When you step back and take a broader view, it was an incredible year in terms of progress," Antonetti added. "If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that some of the things that transpired would have happened, I'm not sure I would have been optimistic we would have won 75 games, let alone 85 games."

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