It’s September 19, and the Cleveland Indians are 7 games up in the division with 13 to play. They have a 99.8% chance of making the playoffs according to ESPN. They have the AL’s second-best record and second-best run differential, and their competition in the AL playoffs all have notable flaws (the Rangers are impossibly lucky but not necessarily good; the Red Sox have an iffy bullpen; the Blue Jays are falling apart before our eyes; the Orioles have a rotation from hell). It’s an ideal situation. Or at least, it would be.
Of course, this being Cleveland, things couldn’t stay that idyllic for long (do we still get to say that after the Cavs’ championship? I vote we can). This month alone, the team has lost its number two and three starters, the excellent Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, to injury that will keep them out for the postseason.
Some may see this as all doom and gloom–Paul Hoynes among them–but there’s more than one way to look at it. Let’s take a look at the situation with the glass half-full and half-empty.
Reasons for Pessimism
1: Josh Tomlin and Cody Anderson starting playoff games.
This is… not great. Tomlin may have that shiny win-loss record, but pitcher W-L record is nothing, and he’s been a disaster in the second half, and has the highest home run rate of any qualifying pitcher in baseball. After him comes either Cody Anderson and his 6.24 ERA, or the untested Mike Clevinger, who has been OK at best. For a team whose strength is its rotation, again, this is… not great, Bob.
2: Do I need another one? It’s that, that’s the only one.
Reasons for Optimism
1: Worse rotations than this have won a World Series before.
You don’t have to go that far back for proof. The Royals won the World Series last year with Edinson Volquez as their number one starter. Edinson Volquez! This is doable.
2: The bullpen is dominating.
Cody Allen and Dan Otero have been phenomenal, especially lately. And Andrew Miller is basically a fire-breathing monster out there. This could be one of those vaunted postseason bullpens that shuts teams down after the sixth. Just look at Saturday’s game for proof–Carrasco went down after two pitches, then the bullpen banded together for 10 (10!) shutout innings to beat the Tigers. The postseason is where bullpens like that thrive.
3: The offense is clicking.
If I told you in April that Michael Brantley would miss basically the entire season, you would have assumed we’d be looking at a much more dire situation from Cleveland in mid-September. But the offense has come together, and while there aren’t any Mike Trouts out there, it’s very solid from back to front, which could frustrate teams in the playoffs, especially in games against those teams’ third and fourth starters (when the Indians will need the help most of all).
4: The postseason is a crapshoot.
Look, the playoffs are crazy. It’s ten teams taking one or five or seven games to determine superiority, which means it often/usually comes down to luck; really, no one has an edge. This is far from the ideal situation. But it’s not a death sentence for the Indians in 2016.