Though the Indians trailed the Tigers by six games through Friday and certainly are not out of the Central Division race, it’s still a good bet Cleveland’s best path to the playoffs is via a wild-card berth.
The Indians were 2 1/2 games out in the wild-card race entering Saturday, but there are two spots available. If the Tigers don’t stumble over the final month, that’s where Cleveland’s focus will be centered.
So, let’s take a look at the projected wild-card competition and see how the Indians stack up:
American League East: Nothing is decided in the toughest division in baseball, where Boston and Tampa Bay were tied at the top through Friday, with one of them as the leader in the wild-card race. Baltimore and the surging Yankees are also still in the mix, which leaves only Toronto as the only non-playoff contender out of the East.
While it’s true that the East contenders will spend much of the final month of the season playing each other, it’s also true that it is the best division in baseball because it employs the most talented teams in the American League — ones that are more than capable of going on extended winning streaks.
The good news for the Indians where this division is concerned is that they play just one of the wild-card contenders — Baltimore — in a three-game series at Progressive Field (Sept. 2-4). Cleveland entered Saturday with a 10-20 record against the East — 2-12 against the Red Sox and Yankees.
American League West: If head-to-head matchups decided the wild-card race, the Indians would be in perfect shape, having dominated this division to the tune of a 21-8 record through Friday. But they don’t and Cleveland has just four games left against opponents from the West — a four-game series Sept. 19-22 at Progressive Field against the Astros — to pad its favorable stats in this division.
Texas was in first place, with Oakland trailing the Rangers by three games in the standings through Friday. After that, there are no playoff contenders in this division.
Odds are good the Rangers wind up winning this division, leaving Oakland as Cleveland’s wild-card competition. Like the Indians, the A’s have a favorable schedule down the stretch, but I think Cleveland is the more talented team. Of course, that doesn’t always matter.
American League Central: Yes, unfortunately for Indians fans, we must discuss the Tribe’s own division, where despite recent struggles, an upstart Royals bunch was 4 1/2 games off Cleveland’s wild-card pace entering Saturday.
Kansas City has finally been getting results from its much-improved rotation that features more than one quality starter for a change and we all know — pitching wins games.
The Indians will have six chances to distance themselves from the Royals, who come to Cleveland for a three-game series Sept. 9-11, before hosting the Indians in a three-game series, Sept. 16-18.
Though KC is definitely an improved club, at this point, the Royals don’t resemble a playoff contender and they aren’t better than the Indians, who own an 8-5 record in the head-to-head battle with the Royals this year.
If a wild-card entrant comes out of the Central, it will be Cleveland.
It’s all about winning games right now for the Indians, and a soft schedule over the final month of the regular season would appear to benefit that approach. After a pivotal nine-game stretch against Atlanta, Detroit and Baltimore from Aug. 27-Sept. 4, the Indians play 17 of their last 23 games against teams under .500 — New York Mets, White Sox, Astros and Twins. Their only other opponent is Kansas City, and the Royals entered Saturday just a game above the break-even mark.
If the Indians can’t play well above .500 against those teams, they don’t deserve a postseason spot anyway.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or email@example.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.