Series With Tigers Won’t Decide Division, But Still Important

If baseball history has taught us anything, it is that a lot can change over the final two months of the season. Those final two months happen to be August and September. They do not include July. That is the one we are, of course, currently in.

This is not to diminish a four-game series that begins tonight with the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field. This is meant to be reminder to all involved to keep those emotions in check no matter how the mid-season set plays out.

By all accounts this weekend’s stanza with the Tigers is an important one, just not as important as some might make it out to be. Whenever the first and second place teams in a division face off, a little something is on the line. If the Indians and Tigers do happen to stay as close in the standings for the duration of the season as they have been over the last week or so, tie breakers may come into play. Since teams do not play for tie breakers in early July, that idea should be low on the stress scale.

Low, too, should be the idea of either team getting swept. With a half of a game separating the two clubs, a sweep by either side would not bury the other. More than 70 games remain in a sport that truly is a marathon and not a sprint. Consider the Indians were five games out of first place a few short weeks ago. Now they return home on the heels of a successful road trip and a game and a half out of first place. If that much changed over the course of less than 20 games, so much more can transpire in the next 77 (it will be 73 once the Tigers leave town).

If the Indians were to be swept away, God-forbid, and be staring at a five and a half game deficit in the standings, it is not time to over react. It would not be time to start trading everyone away. A good week or so would be all it would take to have a close division race again.

By the same token, if the Indians were to sweep the Motor City Kitties, it would not yet be time to go out and purchase playoff tickets. A July sweep or even series victory does nothing to destroy or clinch postseason dreams.

Where this series does hold its importance is in attitude. That is the attitude of both the team and its fans. It is much easier as a player or fan to wake up in the morning and see your teams name at the top of the stands rather than looking at another squad ahead.

Though a strong series for either team would not decide the division race, it sure would do wonders for a positive clubhouse and momentum going forward. It would be much easier for players to answer questions about wins and what, if anything, it means to be ahead in the race than to answer queries about what it will take to catch up.

Momentum, both positive and negative, can carry a team for a while. Just look at the Indians’ recent history for proof of that. Get the ball rolling in a good way and it can lead to success for a while. Once bad habits and losing start to set in, that can also stagnate a club for some time. Tribe fans have seen this at play this season already on both ends.

In the sense of momentum and good feelings, a strong weekend is probably more important to the Indians than Tigers. Detroit is the defending league champions. The Tigers have a wealth of experience in knowing what it takes to be successful. The Tribe, save for a few veterans and manager Terry Francona, does not. Getting some breathing room between themselves and Detroit would not hurt the Indians at all.

Again, in saying that this weekend’s series is not make or break, it is not saying that the quartet of games is not important. That could not be further from the truth. These games are important. You never want to let the other team have momentum or think they will always have the upper hand in head-to-head match-ups. It is much easier, too, to play from ahead that to try and claw back from a deficit.

In Cleveland’s case, a few wins might also lead to some more believers. Right now, some of the fan base is still skeptical about the Indians’ chances down the stretch. After consecutive seasons of watching the Tribe scuffle after promising starts, a lot of the Cleveland faithful are worried about it happening again this year. It has led to less-than-stellar attendance as Indians fans seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach. What better way is there to build confidence in your fans than to win a few against the Tigers and have a little cushion for the AL Central lead? This series should do fairly well, attendance-wise, so a lot of disbelieving eyes will be on the Tribe. The team really has a chance to prove something.

In the end, a poor showing would not ruin Cleveland’s playoff hopes. However, a good showing would help to make the coming weeks and months a lot more fun “on the corner of Ontario and Carnegie,” to steal a phrase from radio play-by-play announcer Tom Hamilton.

The Indians have been saying all season that this is, “a baseball town.” It is not. It is a football town. However, three or four wins might make Clevelanders put the July 19 start of Browns training camp just slightly on the back burner.

Though not make or break in the standings, this series with the Tigers may well decide plenty of other things in this Cleveland baseball season.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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