Forget August. Seriously, it’s last month’s news. No matter how bad last month may have seemed, September is now upon us. With it, the Indians have begun the month with a clean slate and another opportunity to chip away at the deficit they currently face.
Sure, the Indians went 12-16 last month. Sure, the offense struggled mightily in August. Sure, the Tribe sit 3.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot (currently held by the Tampa Bay Rays). Sure, the Indians aren’t the sexy pick to claim a playoff spot.
But don’t listen to what other people say. Better times are in store for the Indians. Besides, I’m not really an expert on sexiness anyway.
Entering Wednesday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland sported a 73-65 record, but had recently been swept by the Atlanta Braves and had lost two of three to the Detroit Tigers, who the Indians are 4-15 against this season. However, that also means that Cleveland is 69-50 against all other teams, so not having to face the Tigers anymore could be of huge help to the Indians.
The rest of the Indians’ regular season schedule is pretty kind as well. After Wednesday’s finale of the three-game series with the Orioles (currently 73-64) that begins Monday, the Indians continue their homestand with sets against the New York Mets (63-75) and Kansas City Royals (72-66). The Indians then play seven consecutive games on the road against the Chicago White Sox (56-81) and Royals before returning home to face the Houston Astros (45-93) for four games, and then the White Sox for two more. The regular season ends with a trip north to face the Minnesota Twins (61-76).
Counting the Orioles, Cleveland is a combined 33-17 against the teams it will face the rest of this season (it hasn’t played the Mets in 2013), including 11-2 against the White Sox, who they play six more times. However, at this time of year, teams that won’t be in the playoffs still have something to play for. Many of these teams have brought up youngsters from the minors who may have a chance to contribute at the major league level in the future. They have an eye on a major league roster spot for next season, and you can be sure that they will give everything that they have in order to have the best possible audition they can. These teams can also play spoiler and ruin the hopes of another team, so the Indians can’t get complacent.
If the Indians want to stay alive in the playoff race, they’ll need to step it up on offense. Last month, the Tribe’s offense posted an abysmal slash line of .229/.295/.362, which clearly contributed to the team’s struggles during that time. It seemed like the entire lineup was cold at the same time, and the Indians only scored a total of 92 runs all of last month.
However, the Indians are known for being a streaky team. Last month’s struggles could evolve into this month’s successes. This time of year has been historically good for Indians hitters, as many members of its offense have performed near or above their career lines during the months of September and October. It seems reasonable to think that the offense can rebound from its recent struggles and start one of its patented hot streaks. Stranger things have happened.
The Indians’ deficit in the American League Wild Card race is currently at 3.5 games, but with 24 games left on the Tribe’s slate, the possibilities seem endless. I’m not ready to count the Indians out of the playoff race until they are mathematically eliminated. If they can play well the rest of September and hang around the playoff race, they will be in a terrific position to take advantage if another team ahead of them stumbles (many teams the Indians look up at have much more difficult schedules). However, it’s important that the Indians worry about themselves first, and other teams later. If Cleveland plays well the rest of the season, issues with the other teams will sort themselves out.
But let’s not forget what’s gotten the Indians to where they’re at. The pitching has far exceeded expectations for the Tribe this year, and the Indians can still handle the loss of starter Justin Masterson (for at least one start). Corey Kluber will soon return from the disabled list, and he is more than an adequate replacement. After Masterson returns (if that in fact happens), the Indians can then move rookie Danny Salazar to the bullpen, or even shut him down for the rest of the season.
The Tribe’s offense is also still among the best in the league (especially when it’s on a hot streak like the one that they’re due for). They have a battle-tested manager in Terry Francona who has been a part of games like this, as well as an experienced roster of players who weren’t a part of the team’s slides the previous two seasons.
Besides, I’m not the only one who remembers some of the magical moments this season courtesy the Tribe. I know that the Seattle Mariners would remember too.
The competition for the two Wild Card spots will be fierce, but the Tribe can match up well with a lot of other teams. Besides, the Indians are hungry. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, and there’s no reason to think that they can’t end that streak this year. The opportunity is there. Why can’t it be the Indians? Why not?
Check your watch. It’s Tribe Time now.