A year of top performances for Indians in 2015

Club moves up standings on strength of pitching, youth

A year of top performances for Indians in 2015

CLEVELAND -- The Indians entered last season as a popular pick as a breakout team. Some prognosticators went as far as pegging Cleveland as a possible World Series contender, but the club fell far short of that.

When the tickets to October were punched, the Indians did not receive an invitation. A tough first half created an uphill climb that Cleveland could not overcome. The Tribe finished with an 81-80 record, turning in a third straight winning season, but that was not the idea when the season began.

"We set out at the start of the season to be playing postseason baseball," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, "with the goal of ultimately winning the World Series. ... I do think there are a lot of very positive stories. We've grown a lot as an organization and as a Major League team, too."

The biggest development of the 2015 campaign was the rise of rookie sensation Francisco Lindor, who helped spark a strong second half that briefly pulled the Indians back into the postseason discussion. Cleveland's starting rotation also formed a dynamic group that provided hope that better results are not too far off for the team.

Here is a look at the Tribe's top five storylines from this past year:

5. Pair of aces

In the first week of the season, the Indians continued their recent trend of securing their core players, locking up Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco with long-term extensions.

On April 5, Kluber inked a five-year, $38.5 million deal that included a pair of team options and had a maximum value of $77 million. Two days later, Carrasco signed a four-year, $22 million contract that also included two team options and had a maximum value of $48 million.

Antonetti, Carrasco on extension

"What these deals do is they allow us to plan for how we build our roster," Antonetti said at the time of the signings. "It takes out the uncertainty of what players may earn throughout the arbitration process, and that certianly allows us to plan better. But, it's only helpful if we end up betting on the right guys."

Carrasco went on to win 14 games, striking out 216 in 183 2/3 innings in a breakout showing. Kluber, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2014, dealt with low run support in '15 (evidenced by his 9-16 record), but piled up 245 strikeouts and logged a 3.49 ERA in 222 innings.

4. Overpowering tribute

In the hours leading up to the Indians' game against the Cardinals on May 13, Anne Feller walked slowly through the new exhibit honoring her late husband, Hall of Famer Bob Feller, at Progressive Field. Mementos from Feller's incredible life and career were on full display.

With Anne and two of Feller's sons in the stands, Kluber then turned in a historic performance, mirroring many of Rapid Robert's long-ago efforts.

Kluber strikes out 18

Over eight brilliant innings, Kluber piled up 18 strikeouts against one of baseball's top lineups, tying Feller's 1938 club record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game. The ace of Cleveland's current staff ended with only one hit allowed and no walks issued in one of the greatest pitching displays in the long, storied history of the franchise.

"I've said it before," Kluber said, "any time that you throw your name in there with Bob Feller, that's obviously very humbling and a great accomplishment."

Kluber joined Hall of Famer Randy Johnson (Sept. 27, 1992) as the only pitchers since at least 1914 to register at least 18 strikeouts in an outing consisting of no more than eight innings. Kluber's Game Score of 98 marked the highest for an eight-inning performance in recorded history.

3. A Brave trade

The Indians surprised the baseball world prior to the 2013 season when they were able to reel in big-ticket free-agents Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn with lucrative contracts. That year, both players played key roles in helping Cleveland capture the top American League Wild Card for the team's first postseason experience since 2007.

On Aug. 7 last season, the Tribe shocked the baseball world again. This time, however, it was because the team was able to find a trading partner for Swisher and Bourn, who regressed with age and injuries over the past two years. The Indians sent both veterans and cash to the Braves in exchange for corner infielder Chris Johnson.

Indians trade for Johnson

"It gives us some roster flexibility," Antonetti said at the time. "It gives us an opportunity to play some young players here in the second half and learn more about ourselves and, as importantly, it gives us a little more clarity heading into the offseason as we look to build a championship team moving forward. And we feel this move helps us along that path."

Following the franchise-altering trade, the Indians took off and pulled themselves back into Wild Card contention until the final week of the season. The move, along with a handful of other deals, allowed for a dramatic roster makeover that improved both the offensive and defensive production.

2. Team Adriana

Perhaps the most important pitch of the Indians' 2015 season was not thrown by one of the team's talented arms. On Aug. 13, prior to Cleveland's game against the Yankees, Adriana Aviles, the 4-year-old daughter of infielder Mike Aviles, threw out a ceremonial first pitch at Progressive Field.

Adriana and her twin sister, Maiya, took part in the pregame ceremony in an emotional moment for everyone on hand. Adriana was diagnosed with leukemia during the year, making it a trying season for Aviles and his family. During an August trip to Yankee Stadium, Aviles spoke candidly about the experience.

Dolan shaves head for good cause

"Sometimes you feel like you're invincible," Aviles said. "You feel like no one can touch you, no one can touch your family and you're on top of the world. It's kind of the way professional sports makes you feel. ... When something like this happens, it shows you you're not a machine. It shows you anything can happen to anybody, that things don't just happen to people who are less fortunate. It just makes you put it into perspective -- life. In all honesty, I've had a very big grasp on life the last year."

During the season, Aviles' teammates, along with members of the coaching staff and front office, shaved their heads as a show of support for Adriana. Aviles even shaved the head of team owner Paul Dolan during the summer. The team also had bright orange shirts made with "Team Adriana" written across the chest for pregame workouts.

1. "Come on, Frankie. Get up here."

Those words popped up in Lindor's cell phone on June 13 during a rain delay with Triple-A Columbus at Huntington Park. It was a text message from Indians manager Terry Francona. Lindor, Cleveland's top pick in the 2011 Draft, was heading to the big leagues.

Lindor had a group of family, including his mom, at the ballpark.

"I was like, 'Hey, pack your stuff,'" Lindor said a day later after his Major League debut in Detroit. "They cried. They laughed. They screamed. I was like, 'Try to keep it down. Not too many people know.' It was a great moment."

Lindor's excellent rookie year

What followed was an incredible first-year showing that culminated with Lindor finishing as the runner-up to Houston's Carlos Correa in voting for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. The 22-year-old shortstop displayed elite defense and ended the season hitting .313 with 12 home runs, 22 doubles, 51 RBIs and 12 steals in 99 games.

"As he started to kind of get some confidence," Francona said, "he became a better baserunner, he became an unbelievable shortstop -- an unbelievably reliable shortstop. He started hitting on par with the best hitters in the league. And he kept that up until the last day of the season."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.