Now the Tribe has a chance to get on a serious roll. They outlasted Detroit by taking two of three in spectacular fashion and now they embark on a nine-game road trip that will see them make stops in Minneapolis and Kansas City before setting up a three-game rematch with the Tigers. If they play well over the course of the next week, that final series versus the Tigers could ultimately make or break the 2012 season.
I wrote those exact words one week ago today. At the time the Indians were riding high. They had just taken two of three from the Tigers, made Justin Verlander look human, and had pulled themselves back into contention in the AL Central. My how things can change over the course of a week.
Thanks to losing six straight games and getting swept by both the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals, the Indians find themselves on life support status. Thanks to their recent struggles, the Indians are now 7.5 games behind the surging White Sox and fading fast. To make matters worse, now they have to travel to Detroit to take on a Tigers team that has begun to turn the corner and look like the team many thought they would be heading into 2012.
It’s hard to place the blame for the Tribe;s decline in any one direction. It’s been a multitude of poor performances across the board that have seemingly done this team in. The pitching staff has been atrocious, the offense has struggled to get runs across the plate, and the front office did nothing to help fill any of the glaring holes on the roster. No offense to players like Brent Lillibridge and Vinny Rottino, but they aren’t exactly instilling fear in opposing pitchers.
Now the Indians are faced with the daunting task of climbing their way out of a 7.5 game hole with just under two months left to play. While it may seem impossible, last year proved to everyone that it’s not. Both the Rays and the eventual champion Cardinals climbed their way out of huge holes to force their way into the playoffs. So while everyone, including myself, seems to be writing off the Indians as contenders in 2012, you just never know when the tide could turn.
Of course, if the Indians get really desperate they could always resort to this.
As for the Tigers, while they’ve been playing well of late, it just hasn’t been enough to pull even with the White Sox. They currently find themselves 2.5 games out of first thanks to a somewhat lackluster past couple of games, but with the struggling Indians headed to town you have to feel like they see a real opportunity to make a move.
Despite their flaws, the Tigers are just too talented to wallow in mediocrity for much longer. If they can get their pitching rotation squared away after Verlander and get a little bit more production out of players like Delmon Young, and Ryan Raburn then they may be poised to make a serious run at the White Sox. Of course, they also need the White Sox to stumble and right now that looks like it might be out of the question. It doesn’t seem like the White Sox have any interest in choking away the Central division so if the Tigers want it, they’re going to have to take it from them by playing good sound baseball from here on out.
However, if the Indians are out of contention for the Central division crown, then it’s time to bask in the glory of playing spoiler. The Indians might not make the playoffs, but they also have an opportunity to take either the Tigers or the White Sox down with them. With how well the AL west is playing right now, it’s possible that both wild cards will come from that division leaving only the division champ in the Central to make the playoffs. If the Indians can muster up any kind of pride over the course of the final two months of the season, they can disappoint one of their arch rivals on and send them on an early winter vacation.