Losers of six straight and heading into Tuesday five games back of the Chicago White Sox, the Indians are crawling to the finish. As of right now the Indians would get the eighth and final playoff spot and have to face the White Sox in a three-game series. The Indians lost the last three of their four-game set with Kansas City and then proceeded to get swept by second-place Minnesota over the weekend. The Indians still currently have a 98.7% chance of making the playoffs, per espn.com. So barring any complete meltdown (this is Cleveland so one can’t rule it out) the Indians will be playing at least one round of playoff baseball. Is there any reason to believe that the Tribe can make a run deep into the playoffs? No, but for Clevelanders looking for any positive sign…here are three points of optimism:
1. The Pitching Staff: Though the Indians traded away Mike Clevinger at the deadline and probably could use him, the Tribe still maintains one of if not the best starting rotation in baseball. AL Cy Young frontrunner Shane Bieber starting any game gives the Indians a chance. Throw in the ever-reliable Carlos Carrasco and Zach Plesac in a short series and anything can happen. The depth of the rotation allows the Indians to run out in a seven-game set Aaron Civale who sports a 3.88 ERA on the year (espn.com). The Indians bullpen has had ups and downs but they have the arms in Brad Hand, James Karinchak and Oliver Perez to keep teams at bay. Throw in Triston McKenzie out there and the arms are there.
2. MLB Playoffs are a Crapshoot: The common refrain in baseball is just getting to the playoffs and from there, anything can happen. There is a good reason for that belief and Indians fans should be familiar with this idea. Just remember the 2016 season where the Indians though offensively light years ahead of this team came in with a pitching staff of Corey Kluber and any arm they could find. The Indians were underdogs to the heavily-favored Boston Red Sox and a combination of timely hitting and guys getting hot at the right time took them to extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series. Anything can happen in the playoffs.
3. The Offense Has Nowhere to Go But Up: Heading into Tuesday’s game the Indians team batting average is .227 and ranks 25th out of 30 teams (espn.com). No team in Indians history has ever hit worse than .234 in a season and that was the 1968 and 1972 teams (factoryofsadness.com). So, it really can’t get any worse than those two teams who played during the bleak 35 plus years of baseball darkness in Cleveland. This last point is quite the stretch based on the play thus far, but this lineup has players that have produced at all-star levels. Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Santana and Franmil Reyes can all hit. The former three are also notoriously slow starters to any season and as we aren’t quite 60 games in. The argument can be made they are just entering the midpoint of any normal season. Even Roberto Perez has had timely playoff hits in his career, think Boston in 2016. The offense has many holes and that can’t be changed; the outfield is a collection of light-hitting defensive-first players, but in the playoffs, the defense can make all the difference. Even with three sure outs in the outfield and most likely catcher as well, there is still reason for optimism that if the big four get hot at the right time this can be a dangerous team.
The pitching is championship-caliber and if they can just hit like an average team one never knows. Don’t hold a breath, but after Sunday’s Browns opener everyone deserves something to feel optimistic about.