The Cleveland Indians find themselves in a position they haven’t been in this late in the season for a long time. It’s scoreboard watching season.
The Cleveland Indians didn’t do themselves any favors in getting swept by the Rays over Labor Day weekend. They didn’t help their playoff chances by giving away a three-run lead in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game against the White Sox, either.
A few weeks ago, the Indians were in control of their own destiny. They faced a deficit behind the Twins in the AL Central, but there were enough head-to-head meetings remaining between the two that the Indians could have used those games to catapult themselves back into the division lead.
They were also firmly entrenched atop the wild card standings, a consolation prize if the division race didn’t work out. After a rough couple of weeks, all of that has changed.
Neither Oakland nor Tampa Bay have played absolutely lights-out over their last 20 games, but both have very much outperformed Cleveland and turned the wild card race into a three-team fight to the end.
Meanwhile, the Twins appear to have taken the Tribe’s brief recapturing of first place in early August personally. They’ve won 15 of their last 20, and nine of their last 10.
With the loss of control over one’s own future comes the inherent need to monitor what others are doing. Here’s a look at what the three teams standing in the Tribe’s way of October baseball have coming up in the next few days.
The A’s will look for back-to-back wins over the Angels on Wednesday night before wrapping up the series on Thursday afternoon. The Angels have lost 13 of their last 20, and eight of their last 10.
Los Angeles has been a below-average offense since August 1, and even more suspect on the road. After spending most of the season as one of the more difficult teams to strike out, they have the ninth-highest team strikeout rate in the league over the last month and change.
Their pitching has also been pretty bottom-of-the-barrel during this stretch as well. The Angels’ 4.99 FIP since August 1 is the ninth-worst mark in the league, while their team ERA of 5.52 is the sixth-worst.
The A’s have been playing the best baseball of any AL wild card contender of late, and don’t need any help from the opposition. Unfortunately for the Indians, they’re going to get plenty of it when they welcome the Tigers to town for the weekend.
That series will begin with the final innings of a previously suspended game the A’s are already winning in the seventh.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are off on Wednesday as they get set for a four-game weekend series with Toronto. The Blue Jays are 3-7 over their last 10, and 6-14 in their last 20.
If there is any silver lining for the Indians from a scoreboard-watching perspective, it’s that the Blue Jays have blossomed into one of the league’s more interesting offenses since Bo Bichette debuted on July 29. Toronto ranks ninth in MLB in wRC+ in this span at 104.
The Rays rank right behind them at 10th, however, and Tampa Bay’s pitching is markedly better than Toronto’s. The Indians will hope for a favor from the team they defeated in the 2016 ALCS, but a 2-2 series split might be the best-case scenario.
Minnesota took Game 1 of a three-game set in Boston by a score of 6-5 on Tuesday night. The Twins send their ace to the mound for Wednesday night’s tilt, Jose Berrios. They’ll have to deal with the lefty who is almost undoubtedly Boston’s best starter at this point in Eduardo Rodriguez.
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Berrios is a remarkably underrated pitcher for a guy who’s the ace of a first-place staff. Of course, any success on the mound for the Twins is overshadowed by their relentless offense.
This is the one matchup of the week that plays in Cleveland’s favor in terms of keeping an eye on the opposition. The Red Sox have a lethal lineup of their own, and still mathematically have something to play for.
Taking two of three from the Twins at Fenway would be a nice way to propel themselves back into the thick of the wild card hunt (giving the Indians yet another team to think about) before their own pivotal weekend series with the Yankees.
Upon the conclusion of Thursday’s series finale in Boston, the Twins will return to Target Field to welcome the Tribe on Friday. It’s imperative that the Indians finish their home tilt with the White Sox strong and emerge with a 3-1 series victory before heading to Minnesota for the weekend.
The Indians still control their own destiny simply by winning the games in front of them. But they’re 17-15 since the first day of August, so the time has come to start piecing together chunks of wins down the stretch again, or they’ll continue to need help from the enemies of their enemies.