“Just another roll of the dice”
Cleveland has its casino now, and lines have snaked around the Horseshoe for much of the past week. The allure is obvious, for even if you’re not entranced by the spinning wheels and rolled dice and flipped cards and all the monetary magic they promote, there’s always the appeal of the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Of course, over time, the long lines and $25 minimums will die down, the hotels that were sold out this past weekend will be amply available. But the casino, it is expected, will still draw a fair number of folks looking for a little luck. Odds of winning big at a casino are probably somewhere in the 100,000-to-1 range, and the Horseshoe, if in-house estimates are to be believed, is expecting to generate around $800,000 in daily revenues. But these facts won’t stop people from giving it a go.
A small-market ballclub such as the Indians offers the consumer similar opportunity to have his or her heart broken. Well, not on such a scale, of course. As much as you might think the Indians have the deck stacked against them, with regard to winning the World Series, I’d say their odds are still much greater than 100,000-to-1 (and I’d also venture to guess that they’re not pulling in $800,000 in daily revenues).
But there’s no denying that to build a winner on a budget is difficult and to sustain one is incredibly complex. To realize and then retain relevance, so much has to go right in drafts and trades and personnel evaluations and injury rehabilitation and just good, old-fashioned luck.
That’s why sports fans in these parts ought to enjoy and appreciate every minute of what’s taking place at Progressive Field these days, no matter how long it lasts or how tenuous it might be. The Indians crumbled after a 30-15 start last year because of injuries and a glaring lack of depth to account for those injuries. The same could very well happen this season.
Or it could very well not. Baseball Prospectus’ Playoff Odds Report, which always seemed to read as rather distrusting of the Tribe’s strong start in 2011, is a little more bullish on the boys right now, giving the Indians a 61.8 percent chance to reach the postseason and a 48 percent chance of winning the AL Central. (Detroit is given a 41.7 percent chance in the division… and nobody else comes close to the Tribe and Tigers.)
This division is inordinately weak, even by AL Central standards. The Tigers have been betrayed by their bullpen, and Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello have been unreliable in the rotation. The White Sox are mediocre, nothing more. The Royals’ youth movement hasn’t reaped the expected results, and the Twins are an abomination… again.
So while this is an Indians team that really doesn’t wow you in any one particular area and isn’t any deeper than it was a year ago, none of us is smart enough to know if the walls are due to crumble, as they did in ’11, or if the past seven weeks have been the start of something special. What we do know is that, with Memorial Day approaching, the Indians remain relevant and still have plenty of areas of internal upside.
I’m reminded, then, of a line from a Springsteen spiel in the midst of a live version of “Light of Day” — “I can’t promise you life everlasting, but I can promise you life right now.”
And hey, that’s all anybody can reasonably ask.
This is not another take on attendance.
This is not a deep discussion about socioeconomics or baseball’s lack of payroll parity or the oft-overrated impact of free-agent “buzz” signings.
Suffice to say those are all complicated conversations.
But what Chris Perez said over the weekend was honest, biting and, on the whole, correct. And while we can fault a millionaire athlete for whining about getting booed and we can debate whether he did the right thing going public with what has, for some time, been a matter of internal clubhouse griping among several players, his basic premise is spot-on:
“I understand the economy is bad around here,” he said. “I understand that people can’t afford to come to the game. But there doesn’t need to be the negativity. I don’t understand the negativity. Enjoy what we have.”
What they have is a team five games above .500 despite ERAs over 5.00 from each of its purported top two starters, Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. Despite a slow start from Shin-Soo Choo, the absence of Grady Sizemore and abysmal production from first base and left field.
Maybe each of the above is the start of a troublesome trend. Maybe Masterson was a one-year wonder and Jimenez is an eternal head-scratcher. Maybe Choo never regains his 2008-2010 production. Maybe the over/under on games played for Grady is 35. Maybe Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon/Shelley Duncan never provide league-average production from pivotal spots.
Or maybe all or some of those areas round into form, and the Indians are all the better for it.
Of course, this runs the other way, too. There are areas that are positives now (like Derek Lowe’s success sans strikeouts) that could implode over time. And we never know what injury is lurking on the horizon; we just know it’s coming for somebody, perhaps of prominence.
So, yeah, when you emotionally invest in a baseball season, you emotionally invest in all sorts of shifting scenarios and wayward paths. There is a narrative to 162 games, and there’s no skipping ahead to the final chapters. The Tigers were as heavily favored to win their division as any team in recent memory, and their fans are running through all kinds of “ifs” and “maybes” right now, too. That’s baseball.
If you can’t predict it, if you can’t alter or arrange it to your whims or likings, you might as well just sit back and enjoy it. Because the fact of the matter is that for the better part of the last 14 months, the Indians have fielded a competitive and, on the whole, entertaining product.
And it’s a little like that casino up the street. Maybe the odds are stacked against you, but it can still be fun to pull the lever and watch the wheels spin.