AL Central Struggles Still Trouble Tribe
Bob Toth | On 06, Sep 2015
If you are still reading these words and the horrible alliteration above, your perseverance is appreciated. Barring a bit of an impressive week ahead, it would be a slight guess that a number of you will move on from the Cleveland Indians’ portion of the calendar and turn your attention to the budding National Football League season and yet another year of hopes (stubbornness) and dreams (nightmares) while supporting the Cleveland Browns.
While a lengthy diatribe could be devoted to the large number of fans within the Cleveland fan base that cannot seem to split their allegiances with multiple franchises without having some sort of a nervous breakdown, that is not the point of this work today.
Instead, the focus is turned back onto the baseball diamond where the Indians are rapidly concluding the 2015 season, one very Clevelandesque as both sets of hopes and dreams were stomped on in nondiscriminatory fashion less than 30 days into the regular season. Somehow, the Indians have hung around, given the handful of loyalists remaining on the bandwagon a little bit of a tease of what could have been, and have found a way to make September more eventful than it once appeared to be, but hardly close to the jubilation that Clevelanders were said to be experiencing this fall, if you were a believer in some of the predictions expressed by a handful of generally respected national pundits around the country.
Yet in this American League Central Division, one that has turned out to be one lopsided affair rather than the four-team slugfest expected for the top spot, few could have projected the results that currently see perennial front-running Detroit at the top of the division, cellar dweller Minnesota fighting for a playoff spot, and the reigning pennant winners from Kansas City all but claiming the divisional crown early despite not making many waves in the offseason.
The Indians are still mathematically hanging in the AL Wild Card race, but at 16.5 games in back of the Royals entering play on Sunday, the division has long since been a lost cause. To reach the playoffs, the Tribe would likely just be eyeballing the second of the Wild Card spots, currently held by Texas, and still would have three teams above them to hurdle just to reach the first spot on the outside looking in.
This September, one thought to be preparation for those Erie warriors as they punched their playoff ticket, is instead a reminder of why each and every game is important. Some of those key losses earlier in the season, when some were using the excuse that it was “still early”, would be really nice to have back.
How the rest of the 2015 season plays out is an unknown. What is known is that the Indians will stay centrally located within the division for bulk of the schedule that remains.
Counting Sunday’s afternoon matinee with the Tigers, the Indians have 28 games left before the slate gets wiped clean. Twenty-five games are within the division and all consecutively until Cleveland concludes its season against the Boston Red Sox.
For those holding on to hopes that the Indians can maneuver their way through the remaining schedule and sneak into the playoffs in similar miraculous fashion to the 2013 season, use caution if holding your breath.
After Saturday’s disappointing 6-0 shutout against Detroit, the Indians fell to 19-32 on the season within the division. They have been outscored, 240-220, in those 51 games.
As long as baseball continues to operate with an unbalanced schedule, results like these just are not going to fly.
The biggest thorn in their side within the division has come from the Tigers’ paw. Detroit is 10-4 against the Tribe this season and has outscored them, 78-65. While these kind of results would have been easier to digest earlier in the season against a powerhouse Indians killing lineup featuring Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, Yoenis Cespedes, Ian Kinsler, and others and a generally intimidating pitching staff led at year’s start by David Price, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez, this year has not been Detroit’s year. Injuries tapped Cabrera and the ex-Indian Martinez from the lineup and the pitching staff was dealt similar blows. Price, Cespedes, and closer Joakim Soria were dealt to aid a slight youth movement.
With games still somewhat mattering to the Indians, they cannot afford many more end results like Saturday night’s slop. Cleveland has five more games remaining on the docket against Detroit; one in the state up north, and four on the southern shores of Lake Erie beginning next Thursday. The Tigers own the season series now for the third straight season.
The White Sox ended the Indians season in the final week of July, or so it felt at the time. The last time the two clubs met, the Sox came into Cleveland and socked the Indians right in the belly, sweeping a four-game set while outscoring the Tribe, 26-5. And it wasn’t as if the Sox did their damage against a pitching staff MASH unit – they defeated Bauer, Kluber, Carrasco, and Salazar. The dead offense did not help matters any. In retrospect, it may have helped the Indians for the future despite hurting them in the present, as the White Sox season was turned around with the sweep and instead of selling at the deadline as many had expected, they retained all of their parts, including one who could walk at season’s end in starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Now, sitting in fourth place, they may have wished they sold something for the future instead of holding on to those assets.
Prior to the sweep, the season series was a bit more competitive and was in the Indians’ favor, 5-4. Chicago has outscored Cleveland, 52-32, in 13 games thus far. The two teams have six more to play – three beginning Monday at US Cellular and three more next Friday to wrap up the Indians’ eleven-game homestand.
The Indians have seven left against the Royals, the AL’s top team and the second-best club in all of baseball. While the two clubs were competitive and fairly evenly matched last year in regards to the season series, this year’s tilt is leaning in favor of Kansas City at seven games to five. The Indians have outscored the boys in blue, 58-56, but that end result is not the one that matters most.
The Tribe will host the Royals for four games in the middle of their next homestand and will face them in Kansas City a week later for three. The Indians will have to hope for the Royals to pardon a few players throughout the series as playoff preparation, especially when heading to Kauffman Stadium where KC has the top home record in the AL.
And finally, there is Minnesota, the surprise team of the league this season. While they have come back down to earth slightly and lost their foothold in the Wild Card race, they are the first team out and sit just one and a half games in back of the Rangers. As hardcore scoreboard watchers know already, the seven games left against the Twins could make or break any potential run by the Tribe, if still in the picture when that time comes.
The Twins hold a 7-5 edge in the season series, even though the Indians have outscored them, 65-54. Seven of the Indians’ final 13 games will pair them up with the Twins, three times at Target Field in the final week of September, and four times at Progressive Field to conclude the month and start October.
Last season, the Indians posted winning records against three of the four division rivals to finish two games over .500 against their most frequently played opponents. They were 10-9 against both Chicago and Kansas City and 11-8 against Minnesota. They were 8-11 against Detroit. A 39-37 record within the division last season may have been a key contributing factor to their final place in the standings – eight games over even, five games out of the division race, and three games in back in the Wild Card.
The Indians will have to finish 19-6 (.760) over their next 25 games just to finish at the .500 mark in the division this season. If they were currently playing at a .500 clip in the Central, the six game step would prove to be a giant leap in the standings.
The top teams around baseball have made it a point to win at home and to win within the division, two things the Indians have struggled mightily with. Meanwhile, the Royals are 34-22 in the Central, the Toronto Blue Jays 28-24 and the New York Yankees 31-24 in the AL East, and Houston 29-25 in the AL West. The leaders in the National League are all victorious within their respective divisions – the New York Mets are 37-19 in the NL East, the St. Louis Cardinals 33-19 in the NL Central, and the Los Angeles Dodgers 34-21 in the NL West.
Ask the Pittsburgh Pirates, 22-33 in their division and six and a half games behind St. Louis, if they would like a few do-overs against those midwest teams they know the best in baseball.
So while the Indians are still hanging around, their decision to travel the road less traveled by and to try to make a sneak attack on the playoffs is not a recommended course of action. It is not to say it cannot be done, but it goes a long way to make that path a much more difficult one to traverse, and certainly not a wise option for a team that has lacked a winning record since April 10th, the club’s home opener…
Whether they can luck back into the postseason or not, the Indians have made September much more of a discussion point than anticipated after their dismal start to the 2015 campaign. A bit of Indians fever briefly swept the city in light of a six-game winning streak and the return of a long dormant offense. The team even got extended time on the local airwaves, and not just because of the departure of team president Mark Shapiro!
The final weeks will be played with a bit of a playoff atmosphere while getting a good look at some of the potential pieces for 2016. It will start within the division, where they will have to buck their recent trends for the benefit of both now and of the future, and that could make all the difference.
Photo: AP Photo/Duane Burleson
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”, 1916