Covering the Bases: Game 104

728UbaldoFinal: Indians 6, Rangers 0

FIRST: As well as the Indians have been playing of late, they’ve essentially been stuck in neutral in terms of the standings. Cleveland just completed a three-game sweep of Texas at home for the first time since 1980. In Detroit, the Tigers finished off a brooming of the Phillies.

The Tribe had rattled off nine wins in 13 games, and has actually lost a half-game on Detroit in the American League Central race. Cleveland currently sits three games behind the Motor City on the eve of a four-game series with the cellar-dwelling White Sox.

So, as the season approaches August, let’s not ponder what happened during that month a year ago, and instead ponder whether the rolling Tribe can indeed chase down Detroit to notch a spot in the postseason.

What about the Wild Card? I say forget about that right now. Over the past 10 years, 94.6 wins on average have been required to win a Wild Card spot*. Even over the past five years, it has taken an average of 93.8 wins to make the postseason that way. Last year, when two Wild Cards were available in the AL for the first time, both clubs that made the cut won 93 games.

*This is obviously a higher number due to there only being one Wild Card in nine of the past 10 seasons. The second Wild Card reduces the average win total required to make the postseason. Over the past decade, the fifth-best team in the AL won 90.3 games on average.

Could Cleveland get in via a Wild Card? It’s not impossible, no, and the team is only a couple games back in that race at the moment. That said, the division again looks like the best route to the October stage. Over the past 10 years, the AL Central winner has won an average of 92.6 games. That average drops to 90.6 wins over the last five seasons. The AL Central winner has come under 90 victories three times in the past five years.

Looking at the coming schedule for both the Tigers and Indians, and using their home-road winning percentages against the various divisions/teams to this point, Detroit projects to finish with around 90 wins and Cleveland projects to end with about 87 wins. I’m not going to detail the entire process, but I reached those numbers with plenty of ink in the ol’ notepad, based on the clubs’ respective showings to date.

Aiming for one club projected to end around 90 wins is a more realistic goal than hoping a handful of teams in the mix for 90-plus wins collapse in unison in the Wild Card race. Right now, I just don’t see two postseason teams coming out of the Central.

It could essentially come down to how Cleveland plays against Detroit, which is 9-3 vs. the Tribe this season with seven more meetings on the schedule.

SECOND: Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez led the charge for the Indians on Sunday, spinning eight shutout innings and holding the Rangers to two hits. His performance was just the latest in a string of strong outings by Cleveland’s rotation.

Only a few days ago, GM Chris Antonetti addressed the rotation when asked if the recent performance of the group has decreased the need to potentially find an upgrade before Wednesday’s Trade Deadline.

“To some extent,” Antonetti said. “One of the things you always have to factor in when you make a trade is: Who do you displace? Who’s position on the team does the player that you acquire, who’s spot does he take? I think when you look at the rotation, those guys have done a good job over the course of the last four or five weeks.

“So the question of which of those guys would come out of the rotation, if we acquired a starter, is not an easy question to answer.”

It’s not hard to understand Antonetti’s point.

Over the past 16 games, dating back to July 8, the Indians’ rotation has gone 8-2 with a 1.79 ERA across 100.2 innings.

“I would say that, for the most part,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “guys are attacking the strike zone better, throwing strike one. And then when we get to a 1-1 count, working ahead, not working from behind so much.”

Here’s a glance at the recent production from each staff member:

Justin Masterson
Last 3 starts: 2-0, 1.27 ERA, .141 AVG
Last 9 starts: 4-3, 3.21 ERA, .209 AVG

Ubaldo Jimenez
Last 5 starts: 2-1, 2.83 ERA, .219 AVG
Last 12 starts: 5-2, 2.93 ERA, .240 AVG

Scott Kazmir
Last 7 starts: 3-0, 1.60 ERA, .148 AVG
Last 12 starts: 4-2, 3.01 ERA, .209 AVG

Corey Kluber
Last 5 starts: 1-0, 2.67 ERA, .198 AVG
Last 14 starts: 5-3, 3.23 ERA, .246 AVG

The “weakest” part of the rotation would be right-hander Zach McAllister, but that is mostly due to the fact that he’s only made one start since his seven-week stay on the disabled list due to a finger injury. In his return on Tuesday, McAllister allowed three earned runs in a five-inning outing that was marred by poor defense. Prior to his finger issue, he went 4-3 with a 2.89 ERA and a .238 opponents’ average.

THIRD: The Indians followed up Saturday’s 1-0 win with another shutout on Sunday. Cleveland now boasts a Major League-leading 14 shutouts (11 at home) on the season. The 11 home shutouts are the most by the Indians 1968 (also 11). This was the first time that Cleveland pieced together back-to-back shutout wins since May 13-14, 2008.

“That’s a good sign,” Francona said of the shutouts. “Again, it’s something to maybe talk about when the year’s over. Hopefully, it’ll be about 30. There’s been a few games where we’ve absolutely needed them, because there’s been some 1-0 games.”

On the hill for the shutouts: Masterson (6), Jimenez (4), Kluber (2), McAllister (1), Trevor Bauer (1).

HOME: The performance of the pitching staff overshadowed a solid showing from Cleveland’s lineup, which drove Alexi Ogando’s pitch count to 92 to chase him from the game after 4.2 innings. It marked the 20th time this season that an opposing pitcher exited before or at 4.2 innings against the Indians.

Heading into Sunday’s game, only the Red Sox (28), Tigers (26) and Mariners (20) had at least 20 such games among American League clubs.

“We made Ogando work,” Francona said. “We didn’t have a whole lot to show for it for five innings, but we made him work for everything, and we had his pitch count up. They had to take him out. Sometimes, that’s the way you beat good pitchers, because his stuff is filthy.”


White Sox (40-62) at Indians (56-48)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Monday at Progressive Field



Respectfully disagree that we should forget about the wild card. While I do agree that the focus should be on winning the division, Detroit has the same cupcake schedule as Cleveland does, while the East has plenty of head-to-head matchups to beat each other up. Realistically I think the Wild Card is our best bet at making it to the postseason.

I think both are still in play. Also, while Detroit hasn’t lost any ground, they faced the weak White Sox and Phillies- White Sox are out of it, while the Phillies really are out of it (even if they don’t think so). If the Indians had beaten the Twins and Mariners as they should have (could have swept both of them), the Indians would be leading right now. Still, Detroit will face tougher teams than that down the stretch, plus non-contenders often play harder and better as the season winds down, whereas contenders can tense up, especially if they’re in a pennant race. Hopefully, the Tigers will be that team that tenses up, especially since the pressure is really on them since they were expected to run away with the division.

Plus, there have to be concerns about Verlander, and if Scherzer doesn’t get the run support he’s been getting, he is beatable. The Indians have nearly beaten him twice this year; the rest of that rotation is iffy (Sanchez has fallen off some, and both Fister and Porcello are hit-and-miss). Never mind the fact that the bullpen might have two dependables (Benoit and Smyly) – the rest of the bullpen is very erratic. This divsion is likely far from over.

It really comes down to the Indians playing consistent ball with no more valleys (i.e. poor play for extended stretches) and playing better against the Tigers. If they pitch like they are right now and execute better at-bats as they have of late against the Tigers, they likely can win half to a majority of the remaining 10 games left against them. Then, it comes down to the schedule and who can perform better down the stretch. It certainly should be interesting – go Tribe!

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