Schedule Favors Indians in Crowded Wild Card Race
Craig Gifford | On 13, Sep 2013
With just over two weeks remaining in the Major League Baseball season, the American League Wild Card race is about as clear as a window dipped in a vat of mud. That is to say, it is not clear whatsoever.
Entering play on Thursday, two games separated five teams from the league’s second of two wild card entries. The Rays held a one game lead over the Yankees. The Indians and Orioles were 1½ games back, each, while the Royals were two games out of the final playoff berth.
Looking at that, one would think Tampa Bay would be the squad that held its destiny in its own hands. The Rays can not be caught if they do not lose. Granted, that is a fact. However, another fact is they are going to lose. So are the Yankees, the Orioles and Royals, for that matter. Of course, the Tribe has not suffered its final loss of the season, either. While it may be obvious, it will be the team that loses the least of those clubs that makes it to the one-game wild card, presumably on the road against either the Athletics or Rangers.
While the Indians are down, following consecutive road losses to the Royals, they are far from out. A look at the schedules the remainder of the way points to a fairly distinct advantage over the other wild card hopefuls. That is the beautiful thing about MLB putting an emphasis on playing teams in your own division during the season’s final month.
Baltimore, New York and Tampa have tough divisional games remaining. The Royals have a very difficult nine-game stretch coming up. As for the Indians, they play just three of their final 17 contests against a team with a winning record. That trio is against a Kansas City team that Cleveland has the season series lead over, despite what happened earlier this week in dropping two of three to the division rival.
The Orioles still have six games with the Red Sox, the team with baseball’s best record. The O’s also have a four-game series with the Rays. Baltimore gets the underachieving Blue Jays for six contests. However, while below .500, Toronto has enough talent to give any team fits. The Jays are certainly no walk in the park.
Clevelanders will be Red Sox fans when they play the Yankees this weekend. After that series, things do a get a little easier for New York. A three game set with the Rays in the season’s final week will be key. Other than that, the Yanks see the Jays, Giants and Astros for three each. The Jays and the defending World Series Champion Giants both have the talent to handle New York. Of course, if the Yankees get to the final series with any shot, it is the lousy Astros that would stand in their way. New York has to get to that point, first though.
As for the Rays, Tampa gets a struggling Twins team this weekend. After that, the team plays 11 games against Texas, Baltimore and New York. Kansas City has three games each coming up against the Tigers, Indians and Rangers before the schedule softens with Seattle and the White Sox. Even the three with the Mariners are on the road. Any trip west is tough, especially with the chance Felix Hernandez could be on the mound.
The Indians, aside from three games in Kansas City next week, have a nice, cushy couple of weeks ahead. They will see the White Sox six times, the twin four times and Houston four times. They have no trips west and play teams they have fared well against all year.
Cleveland’s players have been saying it comes down to beating the teams you should beat. Now is their chance to prove it. They’ve said in the past they do not need to beat the Tigers to reach the postseason if they can handle their business against the lesser lights they see. This is put up time.
Of course, there are no guarantees in any of this. Long-time Tribe fans surely remember Indians teams that were lousy all year and then looked like world beaters in September. That is because bad teams have nothing to play for in the final month. They are playing loose and care-free with nothing to lose. Those teams are full of players looking toward next year and earning a good contract. They are full of young players trying to prove they belong.
On the other hand, many a good, young team have choked down the stretch. Just look at the 2005 Indians that only needed one more win against a lesser Rays team or a White Sox team that had nothing to play for in the final weekend and could not get it done.
While there are no sure things, the schedule still does heavily favor the Tribe. Manager Terry Francona is fond of looking at each individual series and trying to win series. Well, Cleveland has five of them left. The team has four with the White Sox this weekend and a four-gamer with Houston and Minnesota. The matchup with KC is a three-game sets. Another two-gamer remains with Chicago.
If Cleveland wins the four series that are more than two games and even splits the two-gamer, that would be 12-5 the remainder of the way. It would put the Indians at 89-73. That would probably be enough to get the Tribe back to the postseason for the first time since 2007. It is doubtful any of the other four teams will do that well considering their schedules. Cleveland could actually do better if they sweep a series or two from a team they should easily handle. Of course, the team could do worse. All the Indians need to do is beat the teams they should and they will be playoff bound. It is hard to say that about any other wild card contender as they do not have nearly the same amount of should-win games. This is why Cleveland is the team currently with the best road to the playoffs in a muddied-up chase.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images