When I started this series of posts, the Indians were comfortably sitting in the 2nd Wild Card spot. But, after being swept recently by the Tigers, they now sit 6.5 games back in their division, and 3.5 games back in the Wild Card. That’s a big hill to climb for Cleveland, but with 41 games left to play, it isn’t impossible. Making the playoffs is one thing, though. Could they make a run at their first World Series championship since 1948?
3 Reasons Why
- Starting Pitching – pitching wins championships, right? Well, the Indians are certainly making big strides with their starters. Who would have thought that a rotation full of cast-offs like Scott Kazmir, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Brett Myers would do as well as it has? But, in spite of some injury issues, they have held up – leading all of MLB with 15 shutouts, and holding opposing batters to a .252 avg. (5th in the AL).
- Jason Kipnis – the heart of the Indians’ lineup is being held together by . . . a second baseman? That’s right. The guy that no one is talking about (outside of Cleveland). The guy that ranks in the top 10 in the AL in wRC+ (139). The guy that’s going to end up with a 20/20 season, and an .850+ OPS. Don’t look now, Yankees & Red Sox fans, but the best second baseman in the AL might actually be in Cleveland.
- Clutch Hitting – there are moments in the game that can make or break a rally. Moments that can make or break your opponents’ confidence. Moments that can make or break a pitcher’s endurance. Runners in scoring position with 2 outs is one of those moments. If the pitcher prevails by getting the batter out, or forcing a fielder’s choice, it could mean one more inning he’s able to work with confidence after squashing a rally. But, if the batter prevails, it could be the end (or at least the beginning of the end) of the day for the pitcher, and it could lead to even more runs scored beyond the current batter. The Indians have the best OPS with runners in scoring position and 2 outs in the AL (.781) – not Texas, Detroit or Boston. Cleveland. And, only the Tigers and Rangers have scored more runs than the Indians in those situations (176). Clutch hitting like this is something that can make a difference in not just the current game, but the upcoming games for the opposing pitching staff – which means even more in the postseason.
3 Why Not
- Relief Pitching – while their starters have done very well in many areas, they can’t be relied on to pitch every inning of every game. And, that’s too bad for Cleveland. Only the Houston Astros have blown more saves in the AL than the Indians (21). They rank 23rd in MLB in bullpen ERA (3.91), and are tied for 19th in MLB with a 1.33 bullpen WHIP. If they make a deep run in the playoffs, it will have to be on the shoulders of their starting rotation.
- Competition – the Tribe might be 9 games over .500 right now, but a lot of that has to do with their competition. When you look at their record verses other playoff contenders in the AL (BOS, BAL, TB, NYY, DET, OAK & TEX), it’s a lackluster 18-32 (.360 win pct.). And, that’s in spite of a combined 9-1 record verses Oakland and Texas! Cleveland’s wins have come primarily against the below-.500 teams in the AL, which tells me that they aren’t quite ready to play with the big boys.
- Walks – only the Houston Astros have issued more walks than the Indians’ pitching staff. Now, in the regular season, that’s a stat that can be covered up pretty easily if the defense plays well, or you’re pitching against a less-than-stellar offense. But, in the postseason, walks will haunt you.
Where do you think the Indians will finish the 2013 season? Vote now!