Covering the Bases: Game 161
FIRST: Indians manager Terry Francona has been saying for the past couple of weeks that his team is buckling up and trying to do everything possible to get a win. Well, buckle up, Cleveland. It has come down to Game No. 162 for your Tribe.
With one game left on the planned regular-season schedule, the Indians hold a one-game lead over the Rays and Rangers for the top Wild Card spot. Win Sunday and the Indians will host Wednesday’s Wild Card Game. Lose Sunday and, well…
… let’s run through Sunday’s Wild Card possibilities:
- Indians win, Rays win, Rangers win: Cleveland hosts the Wild Card Game on Wednesday and awaits the winner of a Tampa Bay-Texas tiebreaker game on Monday in Texas. This is also the scenario in the event that all three clubs lose on Sunday.
- Indians win, Rays win, Rangers lose: Indians host the Rays in the Wild Card Game Wednesday
- Indians win, Rays lose, Rangers win: Indians host the Rangers in the Wild Card Game Wednesday.
- Indians win, Rays lose, Rangers lose: Indians await the winner of the Monday Tampa Bay-Texas tiebreaker played in Texas.
- Indians lose, Rays win, Rangers win: three-way tie initiates two tiebreaker play-in games for Wednesday’s Wild Card Game. It begins with Tampa Bay at Cleveland on Monday. The loser then would play at Texas on Tuesday. The winners of the Monday and Tuesday games then play in the Wild Card Game Wednesday at the home site of the team with the better head-to-head record.
- Indians lose, Rays win, Rangers lose: Indians head to Tampa Bay for the Wild Card Game on Wednesday. This is due to Tampa Bay’s 4-2 record against Cleveland this season.
- Indians lose, Rays lose, Rangers win: Texas heads to Cleveland for Wednesday’s Wild Card Game. The Tribe owns the tiebreaker with a 5-1 record against the Rangers this year.
“We need to win tomorrow,” Indians veteran Jason Giambi said after Saturday’s victory. “That’s the biggest thing we need to do, is take care of that. I don’t like all the scenarios, how it works out. We just need to concentrate and play a great game tomorrow and go from there.”
Saturday’s win upped Cleveland’s winning streak to a season-high nine games, giving the Tribe 14 wins in its past 16 contests. The Indians are now 20-6 in September, marking the franchise’s first 20-win showing in September since 1948. Cleveland hadn’t won 20 games in any one month since 1995, when the club posted 21 in August and 20 in June.
The Indians have now turned in a 23-win improvement over last year’s 69-94 showing. That is the second-largest year-to-year win jump in the club’s 113-year history, excluding strike-shortened seasons. Cleveland could tie its record (set in 1986) with a win on Sunday. Francona is only the ninth manager since 1969 to oversee a turnaround of at least 23 wins in his first season at the helm.
The Indians are also one win shy of completing another four-game sweep, which would give the team seven such broomings this season. The last team to have at least seven series sweeps of four or more games was the 1943 Cardinals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“Losing 94 games to winning 90 plus,” Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said. “Man, how could you not be super stoked about that? It’s kind of one of those seasons that doesn’t come along very often. For us, obviously we don’t want to be that flash in a pan that just pops out one season.
“Just to be in the spot that we’re in right now, I’m ecstatic. I think it’s such an amazing time of year. Just to be able to be part of this crew, part of this team, and hopefully that resurrection that we’re working towards, it’s such an honor to be here.”
SECOND: If it seems like Scott Kazmir has been striking hitters out at record pace, that’s because he has been in September.
In Saturday’s outing against the Twins, who have whiffed 1,400-plus times and have already set their club record for strikeouts, Kazmir piled up 11 punchouts. That gives the Cleveland left-hander 43 strikeouts in 28 innings this month. His rate of 13.82 strikeouts per nine innings is the highest in team history for a single month (minimum three starts).
Here are the Top 10 on that list:
13.82: Scott Kazmir (Sept. 2013)
13.30: Bartolo Colon (May 2000)
12.86: Sam McDowell (April 1965)
12.74: Sam McDowell (July 1966)
11.92: Luis Tiant (Sept. 1968)
11.88: Luis Tiant (May 1967)
11.88: Danny Salazar (Sept. 2013)
11.84: Sam McDowell (May 1965)
11.74: Sonny Siebert (June 1965)
11.60: Sam McDowell (Sept. 1966)
According to baseball-reference, there have actually only been nine pitchers (min. three starts and 20+ IP) since at least 1916 to record a K/9 rate of 13.80 or better for a single month. That list includes Randy Johnson (five times), Pedro Martinez (five), Kerry Wood (two), Nolan Ryan (one), Rich Harden (one), Brandon Morrow (one), Yovani Gallardo (one), Justin Verlander (one) and now Kazmir.
Kazmir is the first Indians pitcher in team history to have 40-plus strikeouts in fewer than 30 innings in a month.
“It’s fastball command, to start off with,” Kazmir said. “I was able to attack the strike zone and command. I feel like I keep saying this over and over, but it’s the truth. I feel like I’m going out there and getting them in swing mode and, once I get two strikes, I have quite a few pitches that I’m able to set them down with.”
Kazmir now has 162 strikeouts in 158 innings this season, giving the Indians three pitchers (Justin Masterson, 193; Ubaldo Jimenez, 181) with at least 160 strikeouts this year. That ties a club record, also set by the 2000 (Dave Burba, Bartolo Colon, Chuck Finley) and 1966 (Gary Bell, Sam McDowell, Sonny Siebert) clubs.
THIRD: Twins right-hander Cole Devries headed into Saturday’s start with an 11.70 ERA this season, but he looked just fine as he breezed through the first 11 Tribe hitters without allowing a hit. In that span, De Vries struck out seven, including five in a six-batter span at one point.
Were the Indians feeling the heat?
“What was it, the third inning?” Swisher said with a laugh. “No, we weren’t stressed at that point.”
Jason Kipnis snapped Cleveland out of its funk with a two-out single in the fourth inning and then Carlos Santana absolutely crushed a 1-1 pitch from De Vries for a home run to right field. One inning later, Michael Bourn delivered a two-run triple (even though instant replay appeared to show Mike Aviles was out at the plate on the play) and Kipnis added an RBI single.
All five of Cleveland’s runs came with two outs — the Tribe ranks fifth in the Majors with 292 two-out runs this year — and the Indians are now averaging 6.9 runs over their past seven games.
“We just want to continue to keep this roll going,” Swisher said. “This is so much fun, man.”
HOME: The Indians are now a Major League-best 55-18 this season against teams with a sub-.500 records. There was plenty of talk leading up to September about the favorable schedule down the stretch, and Cleveland has taken full advantage of its slate these past few weeks. That said, the team is tired of hearing about its cushy schedule.
“Hey,” Swisher said, “why don’t I just say this as a direct quote to everybody else. No one was [complaining] about the schedule when we lost  games last year. That’s enough of that schedule stuff, man. For real. You still have to win the games. No one was talking about scheduling when we were going through playing the Yankees, Boston, Detroit back to back. Nobody said anything then.
“Hey, if everybody feels that way, make it an even schedule. Make everybody play everybody the same amount of times so nobody can complain about it. You would like to think that a lot of people would be excited for an organization like us. We’re kind of rejuvenated. We’ve got ourselves a new thing. If people want to hate on us for the last scheduling part, we can’t control that. We didn’t do the scheduling.
“Either way, man, I’ve heard enough of that. You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to win the ballgames regardless of who you’re playing. For us, it just so happened that the last two weeks or so it kind of worked out in our favor a little bit. That still doesn’t mean anything. These guys could play spoiler tomorrow. They’ve got young guys fighting for jobs next year.”
AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD RACE
1. Cleveland 91-70 — (+1)
2. Texas 90-71 — (-1)
2. Tampa Bay 90-71 (-1)
Indians (91-70) at Twins (66-95)
at 2:10 p.m. ET Sunday at Target Field