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Cleveland Indians Season Isn’t Done Yet Thanks to Schedule
By Dave Jack
At this point in the season, and given the recent play of the Cleveland Indians, some people are going to think the following comment is nuts. Maybe it is, but Cleveland fans shouldn’t give up on the Indians. It will likely draw some laughter from many of you, but this writer still feels there is October baseball in the future for the Tribe.
Alright, that assertion really isn’t going out on much of a limb. Let’s face it, the Indians ARE still in second place in the AL Central. But given the pulse of the city and the comments by some fans locally, you’d think this team was 25 games out of first place, which is hardly the case. Following a wild extra innings win over the Angels on Tuesday night and completing the sweep with a win on Wednesday, the Cleveland Indians suddenly find themselves 5.5 games back of the Detroit Tigers and 2.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. Do they have some work ahead of them? Absolutely. Is this insurmountable? Absolutely not. Let’s dive in.
For starters, the Indians still have one series remaining with the Detroit Tigers (8/30-9/1) in which they can narrow the gap between first and second place. So far this year, the Tigers have had the Indians’ number to the tune of a 13-3 record, but don’t think Cleveland won’t be looking for revenge. Detroit’s schedule for the remainder of the year will make it difficult for the Tribe to catch the Tigers, so this upcoming series is all the more important.
Now admittedly, it’s a bit far-fetched to think, or hope rather, that the Indians will catch the Tigers in the AL Central. Barring an injury to Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and/or one of their starting pitchers, Detroit will probably win the AL Central (although Cleveland can make it at least a close race). This means that attention must be turned to one of the two Wild Card spots. Currently, the Indians are racing with Oakland, Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Boston (the latter competing with themselves for the AL East crown).
The Tribe has one series against Baltimore remaining and is 2-2 with a -3 run differential this year. In short, that is a winnable three game series at home against the Orioles. Baltimore’s remaining schedule doesn’t exactly allow them to set the cruise control for the rest of the 2013 season, either. Following their current Tampa Bay series (which they can now only take 1-of-3) Baltimore will see Oakland for one series, Boston for three series, the Yankees for two series, Tampa for a four game set and the Indians, with only three “easy” series against the White Sox (once) and the Blue Jays (twice). That’s 26 games against teams over .500 and 10 games against sub .500 teams. Buck Showalter and company have their work cut out for them.
The Indians missed out on a good opportunity to close the gap between themselves and the Oakland Athletics earlier this month, losing 2-of-3 to the A’s. That doesn’t mean Oakland has locked up anything. Following their current three game series against Seattle, Oakland will draw Baltimore, Detroit and Tampa Bay for a series each, as well as two series against the Texas Rangers. While Oakland does have remaining series against the likes of Houston, Minnesota, the Angels, and Seattle, the majority of those games come later in the season. This means if Oakland doesn’t take care of business early it might be too late by the time the easier games roll around. For those keeping track that’s 16 games against teams with a .500 or better record against 20 games of sub .500 teams. Easier than Baltimore but still no cakewalk.
The Indians haven’t faced Tampa Bay in the second half of the season and will not do so either. As mentioned earlier, Tampa Bay and Boston are fighting each other for first place in the AL East, the loser having the inside track at one of the two Wild Card sports barring a meltdown. Much like Oakland and Baltimore, they too have no cupcake schedule. Following a three-game set against Baltimore (which they can sweep), Tampa Bay will face off against the Yankees twice as well as one series remaining with Oakland, Boston, Texas and Baltimore. They balance that out with two series against the Angels and one series against Toronto, Minnesota, Seattle and one game against Kansas City. That’s 20 games against teams with a .500 or better record, and 17 games against teams with sub .500 records.
The Red Sox, who up until last night held the outright AL East lead, by far have the most difficult schedule remaining.
Following the conclusion of their series with San Francisco, 25 of their games are against teams with a .500 or better record. That’s three series against Baltimore, two series against the Yankees and one series each against Tampa Bay, Detroit and the Dodgers. They only have eight games against teams with sub .500 records – one series against the White Sox, one series against Toronto and a two game series against the Colorado Rockies. Even with this difficult schedule, Boston will not just roll over and play dead. They are at or near the top of the league in several offensive categories including runs scored, batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage, while their rotation will do enough to keep them in games. Look for a photo finish between Boston and Tampa Bay.
Now, onto the Indians.
Cleveland has the easiest schedule remaining among the AL Wild Card contenders mentioned above. Following their three-game set against the Angels (a sub .500 team), the Tribe will draw Minnesota for two series, the White Sox for two series, the Mets for one series and the Astros for one four-game series. This is balanced out by three, three-game series against Atlanta, Detroit and Baltimore back to back to back (8/27-9/4), as well as two series against the Royals. If the Indians can keep things close from the end of August through early September, they have an absolute cupcake schedule to close out the season, with their biggest challenge later in the year (on paper) being two series against Kansas City, a team the Indians are 8-5 against with a +13 run differential. For the rest of the season, the Tribe has 15 games against teams with a .500 or better record and 20 games against sub .500 teams. Ground can easily be made up with a schedule like this.
Many naysayers will point to the 2011 and 2012 meltdowns as evidence that things are already over. As the saying goes, those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It can be said the Indians have learned from their recent history. The 2011 Cleveland Indians were a mix of young, inexperienced talent, depleting injuries (I mean guys like Travis Buck and Jerad Head each played for the Tribe due to injuries in the outfield – that’s right, who??) and shaky starting pitching. The 2012 Indians were again a mix of inexperienced youth, washed up veterans (Johnny Damon anybody?), terrible starting pitching and a bunch more of “who are these guys” (Aaron Cunningham, Brett Lillibridge, Vinny Rottino).
While the 2013 Indians roster won’t be confused with an AL All-Star team, there is a much better balance in talent without a bunch of question marks (aka the guys mentioned before). Leading the way is Terry Francona, a manager who is very capable of getting the most out of his guys and won’t be fazed by playing catch-up to get to October baseball.
The final reason for optimism is, the starting rotation (yes, it really is).
Before the season began this writer cited the Tribe starters as a group who could possibly hold the team down. At best this writer was being cautiously optimistic. However, the group has done nothing but prove me wrong, especially since the All-Star break. For the second half of the season, the Indians starters have combined for a 3.51 ERA. If you remove the combined three spot starts of Carlos Carrasco and young fireballer Danny Salazar (who’s 5.40 ERA is highest on the staff in the second half), the Tribe rotation boasts a 3.07 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. That’s 56 earned runs, 137 hits and 54 walks over the course of 162 innings (27 starts). If this group can keep these numbers up, the playoffs aren’t out of the picture.
While the Tribe starters will have to keep this going without the help of Corey Kluber (currently on the DL with a sprained middle finger – four starts: 2.33 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 22 SO, 4 BB since All-Star break) Salazar and Trevor Bauer are able to take on the duties of spot starter and at least keep the Indians in games. Salazar specifically has dazzled in his short time in the bigs, with only two rough innings inflating his ERA.
Is this writer saying the Indians are guaranteed to make a late season charge into the playoffs? No, definitely not. They will have their work cut out for them. However, the 2013 Cleveland Indians season is far from over, and this team is right in the mix.
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