CLEVELAND — Jason Kipnis stood near his locker, already showing signs of an early-fall cleanout, and sized up a season of major momentum swings and minor fulfillment.
The Indians fell way short of expectations — and the playoffs. Unsatisfying.
Still, despite spending just two days over .500 during the regular season and getting there again with a 3-1 win over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday to finish 81-80, Kipnis offered a promising outlook.
“We’re close,” the All-Star second baseman said. “We’re not far away.”
Two years after a late charge put them in the postseason, the Indians packed up their bats in early October and will spend a portion of their offseason pondering what might have been.
What if sensational shortstop Francisco Lindor, whose arrival in June kick-started the club, would have begun the season in the majors and not Triple-A Columbus?
What if the club had traded disappointing free-agent signings Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn and their swollen salaries earlier?
What if they had started 14-7 in April and not 7-14?
But a second-half surge — the Indians went 33-26 after Aug. 1 — provided positivity and perhaps a glimpse of the future. I
t certainly did for Kipnis, who rebounded from an injury-plagued 2014 and re-established himself as one of the AL’s best all-around players.
“We’ve definitely got a good foundation here,” said Kipnis, who then offered a challenge to Cleveland’s front office. “We’ve definitely got good players and now, could be just one piece away, one bat away, one pitcher away and I think it’ll be important for us to go out and get it.”
The Indians, who haven’t won a World Series since 1948, have a title drought that stretches over generations of fans who cling to hope and the promise of next year. While there’s optimism for 2016, here are five things that worked and didn’t work for the Indians in 2015:
KEY HITS: Cleveland’s pitching staff kept the Indians in games and the playoff race until the final week. Reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber pitched far better than his 9-16 record and in Carlos Carrasco (14-12) and Danny Salazar (14-10), the Indians have two of the league’s best young power starters.
The Indians became the first team in AL history to have four pitchers with at least 170 strikeouts.
A STAR IS BORN: Lindor energized Cleveland’s lineup, infield and clubhouse. The 21-year-old was called up in June and played like a 10-year veteran. He batted .313 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs, seemed to make a stunning defensive play every game and didn’t hide his passion. He could edge Houston’s Carlos Correa for AL Rookie of the Year.
“If you take his body of work, it’s kind of had to find someone else who has done better,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I know the kid Correa has been really good, but Frankie’s been across the board, defensively, offensively, on the bases, power. He’s done it all.”
COSTLY ERRORS: The Indians didn’t do well enough in their own division, going 32-43 against Kansas City, Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago.
SHOPPING LIST: The lack of a bona fide power hitter in the middle of their lineup doomed the Indians, who need to add a slugger this winter. Carlos Santana doesn’t belong in the cleanup spot, and a true No. 4 hitter will only help Lindor, Kipnis and Michael Brantley, who had another strong season before being shelved by a shoulder injury.
EMPTY SEATS: The Indians did a fabulous job remodeling Progressive Field, but the makeover didn’t lead to a bump in attendance as the club drew just 1,388,905 fans — the lowest attendance mark in the ballpark’s 22-year history.