[During the offseason, The Inside Pitch will provide a month-by-month look-back at the record-setting 2014 season. Beginning with a review of April on Sept. 9, fans can relive each month as we anxiously count down to the 2015 campaign.]
The back-to-back International League West Division champion Indianapolis Indians embarked upon the 2014 season seeking the franchise’s first set of three consecutive IL West crowns, and just the second three-peat titles in any division during the team’s 100-plus year history.
Sparked by a historic start and 17-8 clip in April, the Tribe flirted with the early possibility of a post-to-post run atop the IL West. However, facing an impending swarm of roster turnover, a resilient Indians squad would ultimately need each and every victory of 2014 to escape with a winning record.
While still carving a new place in the record books.
Although the Indians were a day late on their season-opening assault in Columbus, they left the Clippers more than a dollar short once they weathered a brief delay.
On Opening Day, April 3, heavy rain pelted Huntington Park throughout the afternoon. The Tribe, try as it might to wish away the wash out, would settle for a one-day postponement and the official start of the 2014 campaign on April 4.
The Tribe came out of the gates swinging on Opening Day to unleash a three-day assault and four-game sweep of the hometown Clippers. Setting the tone for a season which featured 76 games decided by two runs or fewer, the Indians leaned on a Matt Hague double and Brent Morel game-winning single in the top of the 10th to claim its first victory on Opening Day since 2007.
“That last at-bat, going in there, extra innings, I was just fighting to get that one run,” Brent Morel said after delivering his deciding knock. “Our staff pitched so well and all we wanted to do was give them one run.”
Following the sweep and a postponement against the Mud Hens, the Tribe downed Toledo on April 8 (Game 1 of a DH) to improve to a perfect 5-0 and set a Victory Field Era (1996) record for the longest unbeaten streak to begin a season.
The red-hot Indians would drop the back end of their double header with Toledo before reeling off four consecutive victories with one road win and a three-game sweep at Victory Field from April 10-12.
And perhaps none of those triumphs were more impressive than Chris Dickerson’s ninth-inning heroics, which treated a sellout of 14,004 Victory Field faithful to a wild, walk-off victory during the Tribe’s home opener on April 10.
“If I could use one word to describe our team, it would be ‘cohesive,’ which can lead to a lot of success,” veteran Tribe standout Chase d’Arnaud said during the year’s early goings.
“We have some young prospects that are exciting to watch and we have some veterans that have some experience to help them out.”
The sweep gave the Indians an incredible nine wins in their first 10 contests and the best overall record in Minor League Baseball. Even more impressive, the team’s 9-1 record matched the 1959 Tribe squad for the best 10-game start in recorded team history, dating back to 1938 (1959 team finished with a record of 86-76).
Said Indians Pitching Coach Tom Filer of the historic beginning:
“We’ve got a very good team,” Filer said earlier this season. “I like us defensively and I like us offensively. We have some good things going on right now. I just hope we put everything – (individual and team-level) – together.”
To meet Filer’s – and the team’s in general – aspirations, the first-place Tribe turned to five-tool farmhand and Pirates top prospect Gregory Polanco. The 22-year-old took little time to adjust to his first full season at the Triple-A level, rebounding from an 0-for-3 debut to hit safely in a then IL-best 10 consecutive games from April 5-13. Polanco’s efforts helped pace the Club’s scorching start and led to his award as the International League’s Batter of the Week on April 14.
Polanco earned the accolade by hitting safely in all seven games during the week of April 7-13. He also led the IL in total base knocks (14) while ranking second in average (.500), third in OBP (.548), tied for fifth in RBI (7), sixth in runs scored (6) and seventh in extra-base hits (4). Polanco capped the award-winning stretch having produced a pair of two-hit efforts against Toledo, a three-knock game in the Indians’ home opener and a perfect 4-for-4 outing with a mammoth, two-run homer on April 12.
With no signs of slowing down, the only element able to cool off the Tribe and its uber-prospect Polanco proved to be Mother Nature herself, who brought an early end to the opening homestand with a pair of rare postponements by snow.
The games were scheduled to be made up in just as unique circumstances as the postponement themselves, with the upcoming schedule now set to include a pair of double headers as part of a 12-games-in-10-days stretch during July.
The Indians then rounded out the first month of the season by going unbeaten in three of their four remaining series with an 8-6 clip. The final stretch featured outright wins at Louisville (2-1) and vs. Syracuse (3-1), a four-game split at Toledo (2-2) and the Tribe’s lone series loss of April vs. the Bats (1-2).
At 17-8, the Tribe turned the page on April boasting the best record in the IL and second-most wins in the league behind only Durham (18-9) —
And with arguably its toughest stretch of games right around the corner at the start of May.
APRIL PLAYER OF THE MONTH:
The top prospect batted .400 (38-for-95) through the month of April with hits in 19 of 24 games and multi-knock efforts in half of his 24 total appearances. Indianapolis’ five-tool farmhand also reached reached base in all but two games during the month, and concluded April ranked fifth in the minors in average, tied for fifth in hits and tied for ninth in both RBI (25) and total bases (60).
Polanco finished the season’s opening month with league-leading totals in hits, average, total bases, RBI and OBP (.457), a share of the IL lead in runs (21) and the league’s fourth-best slugging percentage (.632).