The Cleveland Indians don’t know who they’ll be matched up with in the ALDS yet. How does the Tribe stack up against the two possible opponents?
When the American League Division Series begins next Thursday, the Cleveland Indians know that they will be participating in it, but where it is being played and who will be occupying the opposing dugout are still yet to be determined.
Cleveland currently sits in the No. 3 position in the AL, 2.5 games behind the Texas Rangers and just one back of the Boston Red Sox. The odds of the Indians somehow claiming the top spot are extremely slim, as their magic number for being eliminated from contention for it is one. Whether the club will remain third or jump into second is the main seeding question to be answered.
And it is an important question, as the Tribe’s 53 home wins are the most in the American League entering play on Friday. Cleveland is a superior offensive team at Progressive Field, hitting 50 points higher and posting a team OPS+ over 30 points better than on the road. The second seed would mean home-field advantage in the first round.
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Of course, in the playoffs anything can happen. Home-field advantage isn’t necessarily an advantage, results from the regular season don’t correlate to results in a five- or seven-game series, and the favored team doesn’t always win. Unlikely heroes can emerge seemingly out of nowhere.
The game is won and lost on the field, but until those postseason games begin, we have only the track record left behind by the past six months of baseball. While examining how the Indians have played against the Red Sox and Rangers in 2016 may not be predictive or illuminating, it’s all we have at the moment. So let’s see how the Tribe stacked up against their two potential ALDS foes during the regular season.
Fans of the Indians who spent a snowing, sleeting, freezing Monday in April in downtown Cleveland in anticipation of Opening Day, no doubt remember the very real frustration that Mother Nature did not comply. Boston was in town, and two games were postponed due to the weather conditions.
When the Tribe and Red Sox actually did get onto the field, it wasn’t a pretty sight for Cleveland. Boston won four of the six games played and outscored the Indians 31-18.
As a team, the Sox slashed .291/.364/.507 against Indians pitching, good for an OPS+ of 143. The quartet of Mookie Betts, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, and Jackie Bradley, Jr., in particular, feasted on the Tribe’s arms, each posting an OPS over 1.000, an OPS+ of at least 184, and combining for 10 home runs and 23 RBIs.
But the domination wasn’t limited to Boston’s lineup, as the pitching staff was an equally large issue for Cleveland. The Indians struggled to a .190/.281/.328 slash line and an OPS+ of 72. Among players likely to be on the postseason roster, only Tyler Naquin (1-for-3), Brandon Guyer (1-for-3), and Francisco Lindor (6-for-23) hit better than .250.
The Red Sox starting trio of David Price, Rick Porcello, and Drew Pomeranz yielded just six runs on 15 hits to Cleveland hitters in a combined 19.1 innings, with 21 strikeouts to just five walks. In total, the BoSox bullpen allowed only three runs on nine hits in the six meetings between the two.
Based on those stats, it would be easy to say that the Indians face a nearly impossibly steep uphill climb if Boston turns out to be the opponent in the ALDS. But as we said, in the playoffs, you can throw everything that’s happened previously out the window.
Lone Star Losses
Things may seem bleak against Boston, but the picture painted by the Tribe’s performance against Texas in 2016 doesn’t exactly suggest cloudless, sunny skies either. The Indians lost five of seven to the Rangers, being outscored 39-23, with all but two of the seven games being blowouts for one side or the other.
The vaunted lineup manager Jeff Banister runs out for Texas actually didn’t light the world on fire against Cleveland pitching this season, slashing .243/.290/.395 and posting an OPS+ of 92. But Adrian Beltre, Jonathan Lucroy, Elvis Andrus, and Ian Desmond all had personal OPS+ marks of 115 or better, and the Rangers slugged 10 homers in the seven games.
Tribe hitters were slightly better against the Rangers than the Red Sox, with a .252/.313/.355 slash line and 78 OPS+. Jose Ramirez, Roberto Perez, and Lonnie Chisenhall each posted an OPS+ north of 100, but that’s it among the club’s regulars.
Starting pitchers Cole Hamels, Derek Holland, A.J. Griffin, and Colby Lewis were all utterly dominant, combining to give up just five runs on 25 hits in 39 combined innings, with a 28-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Much like with Boston, Texas looks to be an intimidating matchup for the Indians on paper. But once again, we must remember that games aren’t played on paper, and even the largest underdogs in the MLB playoffs have managed to shocked the world.
What does it all mean?
The narrative that has followed Cleveland all season about the team struggling against quality opponents exists because, in part, there is some truth to it. The Indians went 4-9 in the 13 games they played against Boston and Texas during the regular season, and were largely outplayed in every facet of the game.
Every team gets a fresh start in the postseason, though. And despite the avalanche of injuries that the Tribe has sustained to key members of the roster, the team has displayed a unique ability to persevere all season long. While the regular season means nothing in October, fans of the Indians must be hopeful that this never-say-die attitude carries over.