The Cleveland Indians can officially breathe a sigh of relief. Thanks to the start of a new NFL season roughly 99% of the city of Cleveland has stopped paying attention to them and turned their interest towards another 16 games of futility from the Cleveland Browns. It’s a shame though, because fans are missing out on one of the truly great races to end the 2012 baseball season: the race to the bottom of the AL Central between the Indians and the Twins.
Thanks to another—shall we say—less than stellar series against the Twins, the Indians now find themselves deadlocked at 59-82 for the bottom spot in the division. With 21 games remaining there’s plenty of time left for the Tribe to get the job done, or rather, not done and safely secure a winter vacation spot looking up at the all four of the White Sox, Tigers, Royals and Twins. With how they’ve played over the course of the past two months nobody would be surprised if it actually happened. However, we would be extremely disappointed given the expectations we all had heading into the season.
If this team has any sense of pride left and wants to avoid occupying the AL Central cellar, they’re going to have to put the pedal to the metal and win some games over the course of the next three weeks. It’s not going to be easy, though. They start things off with a three-game set against the AL West leading Rangers in Arlington and then will close out the year with 18 straight games against their AL Central rivals.
Unfortunately, falling into last place may be unavoidable at this point. Given the Tribe’s schedule to close out the year, as well as the lineups being filled out by Manny Acta down the stretch, there probably won’t be many W’s. The Indians are officially in the mode of trying to find out who should be on this team heading into 2013. That means a lot of the young guys we hadn’t seen or heard from all year are finally getting a chance to shine.
This is good for two reasons. First, the Indians need to find some answers for a number of problems with their current roster, particularly left field and first base. Second, I need three more weeks worth of solid performances by Russ Canzler so I can cry in my shower, wonder why he wasn’t called up sooner, and why I was forced to endure six months of Shelley Duncan, Johnny Damon, and Casey Kotchman. It’ll look something like this. I love September…
Meanwhile, the Rangers come into tonight’s series opener as the best team in the American League with a record of 83-57 and own a 3.5-game lead over the surprising Oakland A’s. They’re 6-4 over their previous 10 games. To add to the challenge standing before the Tribe, the Rangers are also the best home team in the AL, possess the most prolific offense in all of baseball, and have a run differential of +114, second only to the Nationals in The Show. You could make a solid case that they’re the best team in baseball.
The problem for the Indians will be trying to keep pace with the Rangers from an offensive stand point. They’ve struggled to keep teams from putting crooked numbers on the board, something the Rangers specialize in, thanks to a pitching staff that has endured injuries and mediocre performances all season long. They’ve also struggled to score runs so one has to wonder how they can even begin to compete with a Rangers lineup that is stacked 1 through 9. It’s just not going to happen and if it does it will essentially be a miracle.
In all seriousness though, the Indians should be less concerned about winning games at this point and more concerned about getting at bats for their young players and innings for their young pitchers. The season may be lost, but the games still count for something. Over the next three weeks they will square off against the Tigers and White Sox a combined nine times. Those games will be important as they may very well shape the 2012 playoff picture. It’s that type of valuable experience that may not payoff immediately, but come two or even three years from now… it might.