Remaining Schedule Favorable for the Tribe

If you’re still riding the roller coaster ride that has been the Cleveland Indians season, congratulations on wearing your Cleveland sports pride and pain on your sleeve.

After 117 games, the Indians have been a largely underwhelming team. A frantic finish to the 2013 season led the club back to the postseason for the first time since 2007, but offseason rotation and lineup concerns were relatively overlooked. While the Indians did not lose anything on the offensive side of the ball in free agency over the winter, their upgrade of David Murphy to a platoon and Nyjer Morgan to the bench left a gaping need in the lineup for a power bat, especially a right-handed stick. The rotation, one that saw the departures of Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez to free agency, opted to build from within around mainstays Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, and Zach McAllister.

Only Kluber remains and that is largely at play for Cleveland’s 58-59 record heading into action Sunday afternoon. Yet despite the subpar play over the first 70% of the season, the Indians are actually closer to the top of the division than they were at this time last season.

At the 117 game mark last season, the Indians dropped their sixth straight game, losing four straight in a home sweep at the hands of the front running Detroit Tigers and a pair to the Los Angeles Angels. The team fell to eight games in back of the AL Central lead and was just over a week from the conclusion of their eight game winning streak, one that included three walk-off victories.

This season, the Indians are still trying to recover from a 10-17 month of April that put them in a hole that they have yet to recover from this year. They have played .500 ball or better in the three months since, but have not been able to consistently play and put together a winning streak long enough to propel themselves back into the playoff races.

With Saturday’s win over the New York Yankees, the Indians improved to 5-4 in the month of August. After Sunday’s finale with the Bronx Bombers, the Indians will have just two series through the rest of the month against teams with winning records.

Cleveland will host the Arizona Diamondbacks for two games this week, sandwiched between a pair of off days on Monday and Thursday desperately needed by the Indians with injuries slowing the club down. The D’Backs entered play on Saturday night with a 50-66 record (.431) and will come to town with a 26-28 record on the road.

Quite possibly the most difficult series outside of the division for the remainder of the year will follow next weekend when the Indians host Baltimore for three games. The Birds were 66-49 (.574) entering Saturday’s game against St. Louis and rest atop the American League East by a half dozen games. The O’s will come in with a 35-24 record on the road, the best in the AL.

The Indians will bounce back and forth from home to the road until concluding the month with a six-game road trip. They will head to Minnesota (51-63 prior to Saturday’s game; .447) for three games before returning home for three against Houston (48-68; .414). The Twins do not have a winning record this season at Target Field while the Astros are below .500 on the road this season. The Indians will run through Chicago (55-62; .470) and Kansas City (61-53; .535) to end the month. Both clubs entered play Saturday one game above .500 on their home fields.

Against their remaining August opponents, the Indians entered play Sunday with a 3-3 record against New York, 1-1 record against Arizona, 2-2 record versus Baltimore, 5-5 record versus Minnesota, 5-8 mark with Chicago, and a 6-7 mark with Kansas City. They have not played Houston this season. Eight of their remaining 18 games this month are at home, where they are 34-22 and still hold one of the best home field advantages in the AL this season.

September will be a month of three long stands. The Indians will start with a eleven-game homestand to start the month before a ten-game road trip. They will wrap with six potentially huge games, if still in either the divisional or Wild Card races, back at home.

Just eight games in September will be against teams outside of the division and 14 of the 27 will come against teams with winning records.

Cleveland will start its first homestand of the month and the final road trip of the season against Detroit, with four at home and three at Comerica Park. The Indians are 7-5 this season against the Tigers. With Saturday’s loss, the Tigers still sit at the top of the Central with a 63-51 record (.553). They have fared better on the road (33-24) than at home (30-27).

The Indians’ middle series of their long homestand will be against the White Sox, who are eight games below .500 but have played the Indians well. The Indians have taken four of six between the clubs at Progressive Field this season.

The Indians will play a makeup game on September 8th against the Angels. Cleveland took two of three at home against Los Angeles after being swept in three straight in Anaheim. The Angels entered Saturday’s action with a 67-48 record with a sizable lead in the AL Wild Card race.

The Tribe will wrap up their first homestand of the month and lone road trip with three games each against Minnesota. The Indians are 4-3 at home against the Twins, but are 1-2 in Minneapolis.

The middle series of the final road trip will feature four games in Houston, the farthest remaining destination on the Indians’ travel calendar this season. The Astros are 20 games below .500 entering Saturday’s action, but are just six games under at home at Minute Maid Park.

The Indians will wrap the regular season with three more games against the Royals and three against the Tampa Bay Rays at Progressive Field. The Royals have kept the pressure on the Tigers in the division and are in the thick of the Wild Card picture. The Rays (56-59; .487) have turned their season around after finding themselves 18 games below .500 exactly two months ago. Cleveland took two of three from Tampa when the clubs last met in the second week of May.

Twenty-eight of the Indians’ 45 remaining games are in the AL Central, where they are just 23-25 this season. Twenty-five of those 45 are in Cleveland, where the club is 12 games over even. Eighteen of the games are against teams with better records.

The time is now for the Tribe. The odds are stacked against them this season, but the schedule down the stretch over the final seven weeks of the season does favor them enough that a strong second half surge is not out of the question, if they can finally overcome the obstacles that have stood in the way all season. What they will need is some consistent play from the starting rotation members not named Kluber and to shore up the defensive holes that have haunted the club throughout the season while surviving the injury bug that has plagued position players all year.

That may be much easier said than done.

Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

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