I typically try to avoid putting too much emphasis on any one series, road trip, etc. Throughout the season, I’ve heard people say that a specific road trip, or a specific series, is do-or-die time for the Indians. I’ve been hearing this as far back as June, which is still a bit early to say something like that. That’s because when you have a couple of months left in the season, anything can happen – you have time to recover from your mistakes and from your 2-7 road trips. I don’t say this to diminish the importance of winning series during the first half of the season, just to stress that you have time to undo the damage. With just over a month remaining in the season, the Indians are running out of time to undo damage.
Tomorrow the Indians begin a six-game road trip against the Atlanta Braves and the Detroit Tigers, and will return home for three games with the Baltimore Orioles. There are times this season where the Indians manhandled contending teams (like the Rangers and the first time they saw the Athletics). Then there were times that they’ve simply been owned – like against Detroit, Boston, and Tampa Bay. The Braves currently have the best record in baseball at 78-52, and are coasting to the AL East title with a 13-game lead over Washington, their nearest competitor. In past seasons, the Indians would have interleague play out of the way by the end of June; if they performed terribly, they had time to bounce back from it. Since they do not get that luxury this year, they need to have a strong showing against the Braves.
Then the Indians move on to Detroit, where they will finally be done with the Tigers for the season. (I don’t know if I’ve ever been so glad to see a team in the rear view mirror). So far this season, the Indians are 3-13 against Detroit; two of those three wins came at Comerica back in May. I guess you can say that the Indians have at least proved that it is actually humanly possible to beat the Tigers on their home turf. Detroit, at 77-53, is currently six games ahead of the Indians. To have even the slightest, most minuscule shot of overtaking them, they’d have to sweep this weekend. Since I’d almost rate it as more likely for me to get struck by lightening three different times this weekend, I’m not holding my breath. They still can’t afford to get swept yet again by them, and hope to stay in range of the wild card (they’re currently a game and a half back from Oakland for the second spot).
The Indians return home to take on the Orioles for a three-game set. Baltimore, at 70-59, is just a half game behind the Indians for the second wild card spot. A lot could change by the time they get to town, but right now you have to plan for it remaining a razor-thin margin. The New York Yankees aren’t that far behind either, just three and a half games back from Oakland. The Indians are 2-2 against Baltimore so far this year, so the season series is up for grabs next week as well.
After the Indians complete the three series against the Braves, Tigers, and Orioles, they will no longer face any of the teams immediately ahead or behind them. They will compete almost solely against teams below .500 too – the only exception will be six games against the Royals (who are currently two games above .500). The Indians haven’t faced the Mets, but so far they’re 8-5 against the Royals, 11-2 against the White Sox (six games remaining with them), 9-6 against the Twins (four games remaining against them), and 2-1 against Houston (four games with the Astros, who have MLB’s worst record). Since the Indians won’t be playing the teams ahead or behind them, they need to use the next 10 games to get into a good position. Then they need to take advantage of the sub-par teams they’ll compete against for the rest of the season. Baseball Prospectus currently has the Indians’ playoff percentage at 36.7; the playoffs are still within their grasp, but they need to avoid falling on their face for the rest of the season. (Particularly over the next week and a half). They’ve already won more games than last season with just over a month left to play. There’s no reason fans can’t get greedy and hope for a playoff spot as well.