CLEVELAND — The good news is the Indians won the Central Division title and will make their first trip to the postseason since 2001.
The bad news is they have to play either the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox when they arrive.
With the American League’s wild-card berth all but headed to the East Division and either the Red Sox or Yankees, the two perennial AL powers are the only possible Division Series opponents for the Indians, who went a combined 2-11 against them during the regular season.
No matter how it plays out in the East, West champion Anaheim will get one and the Indians will get the other.
“I know one thing,” said Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro, “in the American League, there is no easy path to the World Series.”
There rarely is in the playoffs. It’s a different atmosphere and a different season, which is why the Indians are looking forward to their first appearance in six years, and not back on their dismal performance against the Yankees and Red Sox.
Fact is, to achieve their ultimate goal of winning the franchise’s first world championship since 1948, they have to play one of them any way.
“Anything could happen,” said Indians ace C.C. Sabathia in the midst of a clubhouse celebration Sunday after Cleveland beat Oakland to clinch the division title. “We’re here popping champagne right now. I don’t know how many people outside of this clubhouse thought we’d be doing that.”
The Indians are riding high after wrestling the Central title from the likes of defending AL champ Detroit and reigning division champ Minnesota. They did so in impressive fashion, shaking off a month-long offensive slump to begin the second half to distance themselves from the rest of the field.
And though their Central Division hardware won’t do them any good against the league’s best on the biggest of stages, the Indians will enter the postseason a confident bunch.
They may not have the lineups that the AL heavyweights possess, but they do have one of the league’s best bullpens and a pair of Cy Young candidates in Sabathia and Fausto Carmona at the front of their rotation.
Should they finish with the league’s best record, which at 92-63 they owned by a half-game through Sunday, they will be able to start both young phenoms twice in a newly instituted five-game Division Series format.
“The American League is loaded,” said designated hitter Travis Hafner. “There are four good teams. I think we’re as good as anybody right now.”
The Indians will find out early, when either Boston or New York come calling.
“That’s where the toughness comes in,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge. “We’ve played tight games all year. These guys are used to it. We respect the game, but I don’t think we’re in awe of anybody.”
“It’s all about who gets hot in the postseason,” Hafner said. “Hopefully, that will be the Tribe.”
Kenny Lofton, a member of six Indians playoff teams from 1995-07, envisioned what the power-packed Cleveland teams of the mid-to-late ’90s could have done with Sabathia and Carmona at the front of their rotations.
“We had some good (starting pitchers) but they weren’t as good as those two,” Lofton said. “We would’ve won three or four World Series.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Indians have struggled against the Yankees and Red Sox, possible first-round playoff opponents …
0-6 VS. YANKEES
4-17 at N.Y. L, 10-3
4-18 at N.Y. L, 9-2
4-19 at N.Y. L, 8-6
8-10 at Cle. L, 6-1
8-11 at Cle. L, 11-2
8-12 at Cle. L, 5-3
Yankees outscore Indians, 49-17
2-5 VS. RED SOX
5-28 at Bos. L, 5-3
5-29 at Bos. L, 4-2
5-30 at Bos. W, 8-4
7-23 at Cle. L, 6-2
7-24 at Cle. L, 1-0
7-25 at Cle. W, 1-0
7-26 at Cle. L. 14-9
Red Sox outscore Indians, 34-25
WHO: Cleveland at Seattle
WHERE: Safeco Field, Seattle
PITCHERS: Laffey (3-2, 5.35 ERA) vs. Hernandez (13-7, 4.07)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM