It appears that the Indians’ favorable schedule down the stretch is keeping the glimmer of playoff baseball alive in September.
I can’t believe it. You can’t believe it either. As I wrote last week, the Cleveland Indians are still relevant as it pertains to the 2015 playoffs. At the beginning of August, most writers and fans alike had capped this season as a disappointment and were looking ahead to 2016. Slowly but surely, the Indians strung some wins together and figured things out.
Currently, the Indians are just 4.5 games out of the second wildcard spot currently held by the Texas Rangers. In front of them are the Los Angeles Angels (3.0 GB) and the Minnesota Twins (1.0 GB).
Let’s take a look at each of the current contenders and their remaining schedules in the months of September/October:
The Minnesota twins are currently locked in a series with the Chicago White Sox, having won game one of the three game set last night, 6-2. After their remaining two games in Chicago, the Twinkies travel home to Target Field for a 10 game homestand featuring visits by the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, and, after an off day on 9/21, the Indians. They then travel to Detroit for a three game set, followed by a four game set at Cleveland to finish out the month of September. Their final series of the season comes against the Kansas City Royals at home at Target Field.
Clearly, of the remaining games, the most important series comes against the Los Angeles Angels next week. Considering it’s a four game series, it could make or break the Twins’ wild card hopes in addition to sinking other squads’ hopes. In a perfect world, you hope that the teams split the two game series and gain no ground either way. The Indians have a favorable weekend series against the White Sox at the same time as the Twins v Angels series, so a sweep there could really place the Indians in a position to own the 2nd wildcard spot conversation entering the final two weeks of the season.
Another problem the Twins face down the stretch is the perceived strength of their schedule. They only face 4 teams after their weekend series against Chicago: Cleveland, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Kansas City. Of those four teams, one is going to be a division winner (KC), two are currently competing with the Twins for the second wildcard spot (CLE and LAA), and one is down and out this year, but still can pack a wallop (DET).
While the Minnesota Twins have been a nice story this season (see: Houston Astros), the strength of their schedule down the stretch may overarchingly doom them.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Los Angeles Angels are currently in the middle of a three game home set against the Houston Astros and won their game last night 3-2. After finishing with the Astros, the Angels travel for 10 straight games against the Mariners (3), Twins (4), and Astros (3). After a day off, the Angels open a 6 game home stand against the Mariners and Athletics, before traveling to Texas for a 4 game showdown with the Rangers.
Of the teams remaining in the wildcard race as it stands right now, the Angels probably have the hardest schedule of them all. The AL West has been the surprise division (in my opinion) this year in terms of divisional excellence. The thought entering the season was that the Angels and Mariners would clash for the division crown while using the injury plagued Rangers, downtrodden Astros, and talent-less Athletics as target practice in between. In reality, Seattle has been an overwhelming disappointment considering their talent level. In addition, the Angels have played well below expectations and nobody really knows what team their going to get when playing them. The Rangers, even with all of their injuries entering the season, have found ways to win games and keep themselves relevant while the Houston Astros shocked the world and took the division by the horns while never looking back. The Athletics are the only team that have really played to expectations before the season started.
Instead of just one team to worry about down the stretch (Mariners), the Angels have to play three decent baseball teams within their own division. While this makes for interesting storylines as a writer, Angels fans are undoubtedly worried about the strength of schedule they face over the course of the upcoming weeks and what that means to their playoff hopes. Unfortunately, Mike Trout can’t play every position.
Like the Angels, the Rangers play many games remaining on their schedule in their own division. The Rangers have it slightly easier in that they see the Athletics twice (6 games) and have a random series at the end of the month against Detroit. Other than that, the Rangers play the division leading Astros twice (6 games), the Mariners once (3 games), and finish their season at Los Angeles (4 games).
If you read the second paragraph under the Angels tab, it applies here as well. The only difference being the strength of schedule the Rangers face. It is slightly less difficult than the Angels with two series against the Athletics and one series against the Tigers.
Of the AL wildcard teams mentioned in this article, the Indians overwhelmingly have the easiest schedule down the stretch. Cleveland plays 3 at home against Detroit followed by a four game set against the Royals and a three game set against the White Sox – All at home. After an off day, they travel to Minnesota for 3 games and then to Kansas City for 3 games. They then travel home for the final home series of the season against the Twins (3 games) and Boston Red Sox (4 games).
Easy, I think, is a relative term in baseball. The Indians have some challenges when it comes to their remaining schedule. The difference, I think, is the strength of the challenge as compared to other challenges faced by the latter wildcard contenders. Yes, the Indians face the Royals seven times down the stretch. Yes, the Indians face the Twins six times down the stretch. Those 13 games will be tough, of that I have no doubt.
But are we really afraid of going 0-13 against those two teams? Of course not.
Are we afraid of dropping all but one game in the series against the Royals and Twins? Of course not.
When I look at teams like the Angels and Rangers, I actually believe that they could walk into each others’ ballparks or Seattle’s or Houston’s and get blanked three straight games.
That’s how good I think the West is this year.
The Indians just have to play their style of baseball, get a few hits, and play no- to minimal-error baseball. They do that, and they have a chance to travel to New York for a one game wild card playoff against the vaunted Yankees. I believe that this team is in the right place, when it comes to their hitting, pitching, and defense, to make a push.
I’m not overly optimistic about our chances. I think, as a Cleveland sports fan, I packed away optimism, along with the ideals of “hope” and “dreams”, in a box long ago.
I do think the Indians have a golden opportunity to do something special and I hope they can muster together enough to make a wildcard appearance happen.
I guess, as the leaves change, we will see if the Indians fortunes change as well.
*Note: Teams directly behind the Indians in the standings were not included in this article due to its potential length if they were added and the shear number of teams still vying for a spot. As teams either move in front of the Indians or separate themselves from the pack, this article will be updated to reflect their chances and remaining schedules.