CLEVELAND — Now that the Central Division has been wrapped up, the Indians will turn their attention to another goal before making their first playoff appearance since 2001 — finishing with the American League’s best record.
Cleveland leads Boston and Anaheim by a half-game for the best mark in the big leagues.
“We have to balance over the next week getting guys rest and continuing to try to win games, because it’s meaningful and important,” said Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro. “It’s a balancing act, still trying to finish the year with the best record and getting guys enough rest so we’re in a position to win that first (playoff) series.”
Home-field advantage in the postseason isn’t the only benefit to finishing atop the league standings. With a newly instituted Division Series format, the American League’s top team has the choice of playing a series with two off-days, which will enable that team to use its top two starting pitchers twice in a five-game set. That favors the Indians substantially, with C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona as two of the majors’ top starters.
The Indians have already begun initial playoff planning, juggling their rotation for the remainder of the regular season to get their starters in line for the Division Series.
The clinching party continued in the Indians clubhouse, where players danced in circles pouring champagne and beer on each other and both Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge took pies to the face.
The stoic Wedge answered questions with a chocolate cream pie dripping from his chin.
“I thought I was going to get through the season without getting one of those,” he joked of the pie he took from Trot Nixon, who nailed Shapiro as well.
“This is a special moment,” Shapiro said. “I feel like we’ve still got work to do, but I feel this is a moment worth celebrating.”
Relief pitcher Tom Masty has struggled to find consistency this season, putting his postseason roster spot in limbo.
Mastny, who was expected to hold down a key spot in the bullpen, has struggled to a 4.67 ERA in 48 games, losing opportunities to Rafael Perez, and most recently, Jensen Lewis — both of whom began the year in the minors.
“It’s a tough role,” Wedge said. “We’ve got some guys out in the bullpen that we haven’t been able to get consistent innings for.”
A light moment
To loosen themselves up before Sunday’s division-clinching game, the Indians watched a video of pitching coach Carl Willis taking an errant toss off the knee cap during his days as a minor league pitching coach.
The entire clubhouse was rolling, watching and listening to Willis’s reaction after getting plunked.
The Indians are off today, wrapping up the regular season on the road with a four-game series in Seattle, followed by a three-game set to end the year in Kansas City.
Aaron Laffey (3-2, 5.35) opens the series for Cleveland in Seattle on Tuesday, opposing right-hander Felix Hernandez (13-7, 4.07).
Jeremy Sowers (1-6, 6.93) and Carmona (18-8, 3.03) are the scheduled starters in a traditional doubleheader on Wednesday (7:05), while the Mariners counter with left-handers Ryan Feierabend (1-5, 7.33) and Jarrod Washburn (10-15, 4.36). Paul Byrd (15-7, 4.55) will start the series finale Thursday (10:05) against righty Cha Seung Baek (3-3, 5.54).
Sabathia (18-7, 3.19) will pitch the series opener in Kansas City on Friday, followed by Jake Westbrook (6-9, 4.32) on Saturday and Laffey expected to pitch the season finale on Sunday.
Feierabend, a rookie who made his big league debut with the Mariners last year, is a Midview High graduate and will be pitching against the Indians for the first time in his career.
The former baseball and basketball standout for the Middies has made 16 career appearances (10 starts) for Seattle (12 games and eight starts this year), spending the majority of this season at Triple-A Tacoma, where he went 6-4 with a 3.99 ERA in 19 starts.
Feierabend, 22, is expected to hold down a spot in Seattle’s rotation next season.
The Indians clinched the division title in game No. 155 for the third time in franchise history, the others coming in 1948 and 2001.
• Three straight sellouts for the Oakland series left the final Jacobs Field attendance figure at 2,225,232 in 77 games. The Indians recorded their 11th sellout with a crowd of 40,250 fans on Sunday.
• Cliff Lee didn’t allow a run in two innings of relief work Saturday, marking his first scoreless outing since Sept. 6, 2005, at Detroit, when he shut the Tigers out on four hits through eight innings.
• The Indians are 80-21 when scoring four or more runs.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.