The Cleveland Indians were hoping several weeks ago that the regular-season series finale in Detroit would still mean something in the American League Central Division pennant chase.
But a sizzling early September for the Tigers enabled Detroit to clinch the title a week ago and the second-place Indians, trailing Detroit by 13 games, only have a winning record to pursue along with sole possession of second place.
But despite the disappointment of not being in a pennant race, Cleveland manager Manny Acta said there's plenty of reasons for the franchise to feel upbeat about 2011 and the future as the season comes to a close.
The Indians came to Detroit hoping to finish the season on a positive note.
"It's important," Acta said. "The guys have done it. We have played very well in the last week or so. I don't know what you could call a high note. But all I can ask for is the effort. It's been there for 159 games and I'm sure it's not going to be different for the last three."
Acta refused to use fatigue as an excuse for his team's collapse in chasing the Tigers in the final weeks of the season.
"We're ready to go, everyone gets paid to do this," he said. "A guy who works in the factory works 365 days out of the year. This is what we get paid for. No one here is tired. You just get your energy sucked out of you a little when you find out you're not going to the playoffs. It's all mental."
Injuries have haunted the Indians throughout the season. Chief among the losses was Grady Sizemore, who started the season on the disabled list recovering from knee surgery. He went on the DL for the third time from July 18 to Sept. 4 with right knee contusion/sports hernia surgery. He was not slated to play in the regular-season finale in Detroit.
Early in the season, the Indians established themselves as Central Division contenders and made a strong run until mid-September when the Detroit was able to pull away. With two games left Tuesday and Wednesday, the Indians were 80-80.
"I think we're on the right path," Acta said. "We're all disappointed we didn't make the playoffs because that's the goal. But if you look back where we were last year and the things we went through, we're on the right path and the guys have made a lot of progress."
Looking ahead to 2012, no factor would be more important to the Indians, Acta hinted, than staying healthy.
"Something you can't control is keep everyone healthy," Acta said. "We'll go into the winter thinking what would have and should have if all guys were healthy. Everyone has injuries. We had ours. You have to live with it. You can't control injuries. I can sit here and say we'll be good if everyone is healthy."
If the Indians stay healthy, then Acta sees a promising picture for 2012.
"I think this team is better when (Shin-Soo) Choo, (Travis) Hafner and (Michael) Brantley and Sizemore are in the lineup," he said, referring to key players that have battled injuries. "It's no secret. I feel that when those guys are in the lineup, we can go head-to-head with any team in our division."
The performance of his bullpen will also be critical, Acta said.
"Bullpens tend to go back-and-forth when you're moving parts and stuff," Acta said. "We have the core of our bullpen back. We won't step backwards I don't think. The only reason why bullpens change from year to year is that there's a mentality in baseball of no one paying for bullpen guys other than the closer."
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