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The View From Pluto: The Indians Navigate a 'Bizarre' First Half of the Season

a photo of Progressive Field
MLB's 2020 Season winds to a close, with a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Cleveland Indians and other teams

The Cleveland Indians are halfway through the most unusual season in history. After 30 games, WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto said the Tribe is in contention, but what’s been happening off the field has gotten the most attention during this pandemic-shortened 60-game season. 

From 162 games to 60
"It's just such a bizarre season," Pluto said. 

During a normal season, MLB teams would have played around 130 games at this point, heading into the heat of a pennant race during September. 

"We'd have a pretty good idea on what your team is like, who's playing well and who isn't," Pluto said.

Instead, the Indians are 18-12 at the halfway point. "For a baseball player, 30 games is almost like walking up, stretching and having some coffee," Pluto said.

The Indians are typically a team that gets off to a slow start, playing many games in Cleveland and Central Division cities that still have frigid temperatures in April and May. 

"This season started in the heat of summer, but unfortunately for the Indians a lot of those guys are acting like it's the frost of April or May! I think that's some added pressure for them." 

"For a baseball player, 30 games is almost like walking up, stretching and having some coffee."

Francona away from the team
The unusual season has been marked by manager Terry Francona's absence. He's missed about 20 games dealing with a lingering gastrointestinal issue and blood-clotting. First base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. has stepped in. 

"[Francona] is a man who had a heart ablation surgery a few years ago. He's had many other health issues. If you were to look at a picture of who would be compromised and vulnerable in the age of COVID-19, it would be Francona," Pluto said. 

Pluto said the Indians have been trying to get Francona to "back off" for a while, but he wants to keep managing. 

Mistrust and deception
Pluto said beyond the "weirdness" of a shortened schedule and Francona sidelined, the team has had to deal with controversy surrounding starting pitchers Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger. MLB players are under strict guidance not to go out and socialize during the season to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But after a game in Chicago earlier this month, Plesac went out with friends and was seen returning to the hotel after hours. He was sent back to Cleveland in a rental car.  

The team later discovered Clevinger was out that night too, with Plesac. Clevinger, however, participated in a team meeting the next day to discuss the incident with Plesac and failed to mention he was out too, possibly exposing his teammates. 

"The deception really bothered the other guys on the team. Frankly the guys were so upset that management decided to send [Clevinger and Plesac] to the minors for a while."

The "minors" in this case is the Lake County Captains stadium in Eastlake, where the Indians have their secondary site. 

Reliever Oliver Perez reportedly was so upset that hethreatened to opt out of the remainder of the season if the two starters remained with the team in Detroit. 

"The Indians pride themselves on being an honorable, character-driven organization. That's why I think it was a bigger deal than it would have been somewhere else."

"I'm surprised there hasn't been more cases in the big leagues with these players," he said. 

On Tuesday, the team recalled Clevinger to start Wednesday night. About Plesac, Antonetti said, "We don't yet have an opportunity for him at the Major League level."

A dash to the playoffs
The regular season ends Sept. 27, and 16 teams will make the expanded postseason."I think a lot of us who follow baseball are getting into the games on TV and the games on the radio. It's going to be over pretty quick," Pluto said.

"It is an odd season from beginning to end, but notice how we've been talking primarily baseball," Pluto said. "That's what baseball needed. Just think if they couldn't had gotten their labor deal settled." The players union and league owners haggled for months over restarting the season that eventually began at the end of July. Pluto likes the idea that with the other sports leagues, including baseball, there has been a mentality of trying to power through the current climate to return to action and making it work. "The fun part's going to be that 16 teams make the playoffs. The Indians, unless they have a total collapse, are going to be one of those."

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Sean Fitzgerald is an announcer/board operator at Ideastream Public Media.