As IPL readers surely know, the Indians finished third in the AL Central this year, five games behind the division-winning Detroit Tigers and one game behind the second-place Kansas City Royals. The Tribe also came up short in the AL wild card race, finishing three games behind the Oakland Athletics in the contest for the second wild card berth.
That doesn’t seem very close to making the playoffs, but the Indians weren’t mathematically eliminated from post-season play until the 160th game of the 162-game season. And if the Tribe had managed to hit just four more home runs in specific situations, they would have won the AL Central. Here’s how it could have happened.
- Saturday, June 21, Indians vs.Tigers at Progressive Field
What happened: The Indians lost this game, 5-4, in ten innings. They trailed the Tigers 4-3 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but tied the game on consecutive singles from David Murphy, Yan Gomes, and Michael Bourn. The rally fizzled when Asdrubal Cabrera hit a grounder to first for the third out. The Tigers took the lead in the tenth on hits from Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera.
What could have happened: In the ninth, if Gomes had gotten a homer instead of a single, the Indians would have won, 5-4. Had Bourn homered or tripled, or maybe even doubled, instead of getting a single, the Indians would have won 6-4 or 5-4. If Cabrera had gotten a single or a double, he’d have scored Gomes from second base, winning the game 5-4. A homer would have given the Indians a 7-4 victory.
- Saturday, July 26, Indians vs. Royals at Kauffman Field
What happened: Despite taking a 5-0 lead after two innings, the Tribe watched as the Royals scored seven unanswered runs, winning 7-5.
What could have happened: The Indians brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the top of the eighth on a single from Yan Gomes and a walk to Jason Kipnis. With two outs, the next batter, Jose Ramirez, struck out. If he’d homered instead, he’d have given the Tribe an 8-7 lead, and very probably they would have gone on to win the game.
- Tuesday, September 2, Indians vs. Tigers at Progressive Field
What happened: The Indians took a 2-0 lead in the first, and led 2-1 until the ninth, when J.D. Martinez hit a three-run homer to give the Tigers a 4-2 lead. The Indians failed to score in the ninth, and the Tigers won, 4-2.
What could have happened: In the bottom of the seventh, with two outs and runners on first and second, Jason Kipnis hit an 0-2 pitch from Phil Coke for a line drive out to right field. Had he been able to hit the ball a little bit harder for a home run, he’d have made the score 5-1, Indians. Martinez’s ninth-inning blast would have made things interesting, but it says here that the Indians would have hung on for a 5-4 victory.
- Saturday, September 13, Indians vs. Tigers at Comerica Park
What happened: With the Tribe up 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, Bryan Shaw gave up a two-run homer to Alex Avila, giving the Tigers a 5-4 lead. Jason Kipnis led off the top of the ninth by walking, but failed to score, and the Tigers won, 5-4.
What could have happened: Had any of the three batters following Kipnis—Jose Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall, or David Murphy—been able to hit a home run, it would have given the Tribe a 6-5 lead. Would they have then gone on to shut the Tigers down and win, 6-5? For the purposes of this exercise, sure, of course they would have.
And there you have it. Had all of these four Tribe losses been turned into Tribe victories via the long ball—or in the first case, even via a well-timed and well-placed single or double—the Indians would have had four more wins on the season. The Tigers would have had three fewer wins, and the Royals would have had one fewer win. The Indians would have finished first in the AL Central with 89 wins and 73 losses, followed by the Royals at 88 and 74, and the Tigers at 87 and 75. Isn’t it pretty to think so?
Of course, it wasn’t only a lack of timely hitting that caused the Indians to come up short this year. The Indians’ shaky fielding and throwing caused them to lose a few games as well. Had they been able to turn a handful of plays from errors into putouts, they would have won a few more games, too, as we’ll see in an upcoming post here on IPL.
Update: Stephanie has written a post about the Tribe’s atrocious defense and how it turned winnable games into losses time and time again.
Another update: Susan completes the trilogy of futility by taking a look at four games ruined by blown saves.