Jimenez wins again, and the Indians are in the playoffs

Ubaldo Jimenez has an AL-best 1.82 ERA since the All-Star break. (USATSI)
Ubaldo Jimenez has an AL-best 1.82 ERA since the All-Star break. (USATSI)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Remember, the idea was that Ubaldo Jimenez would pitch the Indians into the playoffs.

And he did.

OK, so it was two years after the big July 2011 trade that brought him from the Rockies. OK, so the Indians had to go through a 94-loss season and a manager change. OK, so Jimenez led the majors with 17 losses last season.

You think anyone in Cleveland is complaining about any of that now?

The Indians are in the playoffs, in as the first wild-card team in the American League. They'll host the wild-card game Wednesday night in Cleveland (against either the Rays or Rangers), with the winner going to Boston to play the Red Sox on Friday.

The Indians are in, and the Indians are one of the best stories of this baseball season. The Indians are in, because they were smart enough to hire Terry Francona as manager and because they were able to fit both significant free agents (Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher) and a deep bench (Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn) into an $80 million payroll.

But the Indians also are in because their rotation outperformed all expectations, and that began with the guy who had 13 strikeouts in Sunday's clinching 5-1 win over the Twins.

Jimenez was the guy the Indians wanted on the mound in the biggest game they've played since the 2007 playoffs. He's the guy who may help give them some chance if they get through to the Division Series against the Red Sox, because he would be on target to start Games 1 and 5.

"It's a pretty cool story," Francona said Sunday morning. "We're in a game we need to win, and we're thrilled he's pitching. We actually manipulated the rotation a couple of weeks ago so that we'd have him set up for [Sunday]."

Why wouldn't they? When Jimenez carried a shutout into the seventh inning Sunday, he lowered his September ERA to 1.09. The Indians went 21-6 over the final month, and Jimenez started six of the games, all wins.

His ERA since the All-Star break is an AL-best 1.82.

There's been plenty of talk over the last couple of weeks about how the Indians have benefitted from an easy schedule, especially this month. There's no doubt that's true.

But it's also true that the Indians outperformed all expectations anyone had for them this season.

When Francona took the Indians job last fall, plenty of people wondered why he would do it. When Swisher signed with the Indians last winter and Bourn signed there last spring, plenty of people asked why they would go to Cleveland.

Now they're in the playoffs, and teams like the Yankees and the Angels and the Orioles aren't.

"I think one thing I said when I was hired was that I hoped to make Cleveland Indians fans proud," Francona said this weekend. "I think that's what we're doing."

The attendance hasn't been great, but the Indians say their television ratings have been up nearly 40 percent over last year, and radio ratings are way up, too. The Indians said Sunday morning that they've already sold more than 35,000 tickets for Wednesday's wild-card game, and that they have every expectation that the game will sellout.

And why not?

The Indians are in the playoffs, and it's a great story.

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