Despite the fact that the Indians lost two of three this weekend against the Yankees, there’s still reason to be optimistic heading into this coming week. They were competitive in a three-game series against a high caliber opponent for the first time in a long time. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.
Now the Tribe gets to take on yet another team in the thick of things in the AL Wild Card race, the Oakland Athletics. So while the Indians might not have much left to play for the can do the next best thing heading down the home stretch: Play spoiler to the hopes and dreams of another team and its fan base.
There’s reason to believe that the Indians could be back on their way to playing good, solid, fundamental baseball for the first time since before the All-Star break. Against what is arguably one of the best offensive teams in baseball in the Yankees, the Indians played three close games. The pitching staff held them to four runs or less in all three games, and the two losses were by only two runs apiece. Again, that’s positive progress from a team that’s done nothing but provide negative moments for almost two solid months. It’s not nearly enough to change the eventual outcome of what’s been a disappointing season, but it could help at least a little bit.
Meanwhile, The A’s come into this series red hot. They’ve won two games in a row and are 8-2 over their previous ten games. At 69-57 they’re in a dead heat with the Orioles, Rays, and Tigers for one of two wild card spots and have established themselves as one of the great stories of the 2012 season. But how have they done it? How has a team that nobody expected to even finish within even 10 games of the .500 mark stayed in contention for a playoff spot?
As is usually the case for teams that come out of nowhere, pitching has been the primary reason for the A’s prolonged success. To put things into proper perspective consider these numbers: The A’s have scored only 510 runs this season. That’s 11 fewer than the Indians’ much-maligned offense and only four better than the AL-worst Mariners. On the other hand though, the A’s have allowed only 473 runs. That’s second-best in the AL behind the Rays’ 463 and 181 fewer than the Indians’ 654 runs against. The Twins are the worst in the AL having allowed 664 runs. Mystery solved.
That’s not to say the A’s don’t have any offensive threats. While they may struggle as a whole. they do have a few players that can make things miserable for opposing pitchers. Josh Reddick has looked like a steal of epic proportions since coming over from the Red Sox in the Andrew Bailey deal. His 25 home runs, 64 RBI, 66 runs, and .805 OPS all lead the A’s (he should have been an All-Star). Yoenis Cespedes has struggled with injuries, but has been everything he was advertised to be drilling 16 home runs to go along with 62 RBI in only 93 games. Even role players such as Coco Crisp, Chris Carter, and Johnny Gomes have made an impact offensively this season for the A’s. They simply lack consistency as a whole and have struck out 1,050 times, more than any other team in the AL.
So can the Indians really play spoiler to a team that looks locked in and primed to make a late push for a playoff spot? It’s certainly possible. If this past weekend’s performance against the Yankees was any indication the worst may finally be behind them. Then again, momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher in baseball, so the past three games might not amount to much. If I were a betting man I’d be willing to wager on four very close, low-scoring games dominated by pitching. Runs are going to come at a premium and the team that makes the fewer amount of mistakes in the next four games will more than likely come out on top.