The Cleveland Indians may play in baseball’s weakest division, but they’ll face arguably the best division in Interleague play in 2019.
Much has been made of the fact that the Cleveland Indians, for the second straight season, will play in baseball’s worst projected division. Cleveland was virtually penned in as the AL Central champion before the 2018 season began, and even with some injuries heading into 2019, there isn’t a great deal of optimism that any team but the Twins can challenge them for the crown this year.
Whatever advantage the Indians may have playing in such a weak division, their adversaries in interleague play stand to balance it out in some regard. The Tribe will face the NL East this season, a division in which every team except for the lowly Miami Marlins could potentially go on an October run.
The Phillies got better this winter, thanks in large part to the addition of Bryce Harper, among others. The Nationals also arguably got better (and certainly did not get worse) despite the loss of Harper. The Braves made the playoffs in 2018, and there is no reason that their young core, led by veteran Freddie Freeman and the newly acquired Josh Donaldson, can’t be even more dangerous this year. The Mets are something of a wild card, as they rarely seem to be able to put it all together, but they have a much stronger roster than most are willing to give them credit for.
Cleveland will play 12 total games against these four NL East contenders in 2019, with nine of them coming in the final six weeks of the season. Perhaps it’s a bit of a reach to place stock in a chunk of games that make up just over seven percent of a 162-game schedule. After all, if the Indians take care of business against their divisional counterparts, they shouldn’t have much to worry about.
That said, the most recent evidence we have of what to expect from the Indians is an across-the-board underwhelming 2018 season from a team that still had the likes of Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen. Those players are all gone now, and at least to start the season, so are Francisco Lindor and (probably) Jose Ramirez. The Indians exploited the AL Central in 2018 en route to a 91-71 record, but there is less of a margin for prolonged stretches of mediocrity in 2019.
If the much-improved Twins can capitalize on an active offseason in which they added Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron, Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Schoop, the Central figures to be a closer race than it was last year.
Therefore, the potential importance of 12 games against the NL East should not be casually dismissed. That’s 12 chances to face some combination of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Nola, and a host of up-and-coming starters in Atlanta’s rotation. And that’s to say nothing of the lethal offenses each team can put on the field on any given day.
Thanks to an elite starting rotation of their own, the Indians are more equipped to go toe-to-toe with the NL East than anyone in the AL Central, including the Twins. Cleveland needs to make that advantage count in 2019.
The Indians host Philadelphia in their final home series of the year and close out the regular season with a visit to Washington. The Twins, on the other hand, finish out their schedule with nine games against the Royals and Tigers. It’s admittedly a long way off to start trying to predict what those games will mean, but on paper, it’s pretty easy to see what they could mean.
Maybe the Indians find themselves with another 13-game lead over the second-place team in the Central at season’s end. If they find themselves fighting for every victory, however, this 12-game portion of the schedule, particularly those six in late September, could go a long way in determining where the Indians stand when October rolls around.