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The broken Indians might be the best underdog story of the postseason

The Cubs and their quest are still a great story. But there’s something about a cursed team that had everything ripped away from them at the last second, too.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

We’re about two weeks away from a nightly national Cubs broadcast. There could be as few as three of them. There could be as many as 19. And before each one is aired, Fox and TBS will send an intern to your house to sit next to you and whisper "1908" into your ear every five seconds. Do not feed the intern. They have their own snacks. The best advice I have for you is to nod each time and say, "That is true. The Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908," while avoiding eye contact. And keep your fingers away from their mouth.

You don’t want to minimize the championship drought. It’s one of sports’ greatest, longest lasting, most compelling narratives. But you’re gonna be sick of it soon. It’s probably too late to invent a shock collar that’s set off by the word "goat," unless it isn’t. I will help promote the GoFundMe.

This is all confused by the fact that the Cubs are supposed to be, well, bullies. They have the best pitching. They have the best hitting. They have the best defense. They’re young. They’re likely to win 100 games for the first time since 1935. They have a chance to allow fewer runs than any Cubs team since 1933, and that includes the strike seasons. This will all come up at the same time, this hybrid of underdog/updog, and it will be confusing for you and your rooting interests. Rooting for the underdog is usually so natural, but that’s not quite what the Cubs are, and you’ll have their struggles pushed in your face so much, you’ll snap and react against it at some point.

This is an article about an alternative. This is about the Cleveland Indians, and a way to invest your energy into a franchise that’s both a historical underdog and a baseball underdog. There will not be talk about goats. Not unless Tony Fernandez comes up. Ha ha, a little gallows humor before we continue, and, OK, that joke didn’t go over well, think dammit think segue into the next paragraph somehow.

Because where the Cubs are a confusing amalgam of bully and bullied, the Indians are trying to overcome their legacy of general sadness, but they’re also doing it at a sudden disadvantage. They had to work so, so hard to build a team like this, with a monster of a rotation that featured a pitching hydra that no one wanted to face in a short series. They had to a) acquire the pitchers, b) develop the pitchers, and c) keep them healthy if they wanted to be a dominant postseason team. It’s a complicated, multi-faceted trick that takes several years to pull off, and they were so close. Then c) bit them on the nose because of course it did.

Danny Salazar might miss the postseason, or at least a large chunk of it, with an elbow strain. Carlos Carrasco is out for the year on a freak injury, a fractured finger suffered on a line drive up the middle. It’s all enough to make people react with doom and gloom.

You’ll never believe it, but Indians fans didn’t like that column much. Neither did Indians players, with Jason Kipnis and Trevor Bauer airing their displeasure on Twitter. Considering that Edinson Volquez and Tim Hudson were the starters for the winning team in each of the last two World Series, it’s possible that we’re making too much out of rotation depth and how it’s the only way a team can succeed in the postseason.

The Indians’ postseason rotation until Salazar comes back (if he does):

  1. Corey Kluber
  2. Trevor Bauer
  3. Josh Tomlin
  4. Cody Anderson?

We’ve seen worse postseason rotations win the World Series. Not a majority of the winning rotations, but they’re not hard to find. There’s still hope for the Indians in 2016. Let the hot takes cool on a windowsill or something next time.

But they shouldn’t have had to settle for this kind of consolation, this gray-skies-are-gonna-clear-up talk. They built the rotation they needed to. Over the last decade, the Indians have been a Cy Young factory, except they’ve never been able to get their best pitchers healthy and effective at the same time. When CC Sabathia won the Cy Young, Cliff Lee had a 6.29 ERA. When Lee won the Cy Young, Sabathia was traded. When Kluber won the Cy Young, the rest of the young rotation was just emerging, and he couldn’t do it by himself. This was supposed to be the season when the stars aligned.

And that’s without even going back to the Manny-era Indians, who could have used, like, just one of these guys.

This all makes the Indians the greatest underdog story that you’ll never hear about this postseason. It’ll be Cubs, Cubs, Cubs until another team takes the narrative away.

Before you load up that email machine, Cubs fans, please note that all I’m saying is that it’s a virtual tie. There are still Indians fans who remember them winning a World Series (1948), and while they would sure like another one, the best you can say about Cubs fans is that maybe one of them was alive in 1908, possibly, but they sure as heck weren’t old enough to remember what the parade was like. That tips the scales in favor of the Cubs and by a bunch.

But they’re entering the postseason at (mostly) full strength. The Indians have lost two of the very pitchers that defined them and their postseason chances. The scales are close to balancing out.

Also, I see you, Mets, and your bad luck makes me sick, too. Everything here applies to the Mets' rotation, with the caveats that a) they're getting Stephen Matz back soon, b) they just won the pennant, and c) a championship drought of 30 years isn't quite as devastating. There are graying people in the middle of their second divorce who were too young to remember the Mets winning. That's kind of the cutoff point between a standard championship drought and something we should pay attention to. But it's not quite comparable to the Indians' drought.

And what of the teams like the Nationals, who have never even won a pennant, or the Rangers, who haven’t won a World Series and have the recent history of Lucy pulling the football away? We should probably make a spectrum of all the remaining contenders to clear all this up.

While we’re about 40 years closer to their last title than we are to the Cubs’, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be tied in the underdog rankings, specifically because of what’s happened to their vaunted pitching staff at the worst possible time.

The Indians still have a shot. The Indians deserved so much better. Both can be true. And if you’re an impartial observer this postseason, you could do worse than remember how much crap they’ve had to slog through both in the long- and short-term.