Cleveland Indians: Mapping out the home stretch for AL contenders

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

In addition to needing to win their own games, the Cleveland Indians will need help from some other teams throughout the league to make the playoffs.

The Cleveland Indians have no more chances to gain ground on the other teams in the AL playoff race through head-to-head meetings. They missed a chance to keep the AL Central within reach this past weekend, dropping two of three to the Twins.

Making matters worse, the A’s swept the Rangers, and the Rays took two of three from the Angels over the weekend. The Indians are officially no longer in sole ownership of their fate.

They sit 4.5 games back of the Twins in the Central, and 1.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot. Barring some sort of cataclysmic meltdown on the part of Minnesota, the Wild Card game is the Tribe’s best hope at getting to October.

Here is how the final two weeks of the season look for the four AL teams whose playoff chances are still somewhat up in the air.

Minnesota Twins

CWS (3), KC (4), @DET (3), @KC (3)

As you can see, it truly would take an inexplicable collapse for the Twins not to win the division. They have just eight fewer wins than Kansas City and Detroit combined.

Minnesota’s combined record against their final three opponents is 31-13. The Indians are the only team in the Central who played the Twins tough all year, winning the season series 10-9.

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In fact, other than the Tribe, only the Yankees and A’s even finished above .500 against the Twins among AL teams. This only serves to make Cleveland’s current position all the more frustrating.

This final stretch of Minnesota’s schedule should allow them to cruise into October fresh and ready for whoever earns the two-seed in the AL between the Yankees and Astros.

Oakland Athletics

KC (3), TEX (3), @LAA (2), @SEA (4)

The A’s are 28-12 since the first day of August with a run differential of plus-74. Like the Twins, they’ll wrap up the regular season with four opponents who are not playoff-bound.

Oakland is a combined 23-10 against the Angels and Rangers, both of whom have spiraled out of control over the last month and a half. Seattle has managed to keep the season series close, with Oakland holding an 8-7 advantage at the moment. The A’s have outscored the Mariners 88-65, however.

The A’s are also one of the few teams who totally owned the Indians this year, taking the season series 5-1 and outscoring the Tribe 28-19. Whoever finishes with the best record in the American League is getting a tough matchup right off the bat if Oakland winds up winning the Wild Card game.

Tampa Bay Rays

@LAD (2), BOS (4), NYY (2), @TOR (3)

Speaking of teams who took care of business against Cleveland, the Indians sure didn’t do themselves any favors losing six out of seven to the Rays by an embarrassing margin of 41-18.

Luckily for the Tribe, eight of Tampa Bay’s final 11 games are against opponents with records above .500. The Dodgers don’t appear poised to take their feet off the accelerator despite having wrapped up the NL West.

Boston may have faded from the playoff picture, but they’re a team with a lethal lineup and championship pedigree. That four-game series at the Trop won’t be a walk in the park for the Rays.

The Yankees have had the Rays’ number all year, winning 12 of 17 matchups thus far. With the Twins presumably waiting for whoever doesn’t earn home field advantage throughout the AL playoffs, don’t expect the Yankees to be content with the second-best record. The Bombers will most certainly aim to sweep that final pair of games in Tampa.

On paper, the potential is there for the Rays to falter in these final 11 games, leaving the door open for the Indians if they can take care of business. It won’t be easy.

Cleveland Indians

DET (3), PHI (3), @CWS (3), @WSH (3)

The Indians have outplayed the Twins in head-to-head meetings. They have allowed the fewest runs of any American League team. If they are unable to claw their way into October, it will surely be a winter full of what-ifs.

They do have an opportunity to give themselves a fighting chance over the final few weeks, however. The Tribe’s record against the Tigers is 15-1, with a run differential of plus-65. The Phillies have all but fallen out of the hunt for the postseason, and the Indians have the advantage of facing them at home.

The White Sox have given the Indians fits all season, and currently hold the season-series advantage at 9-7. It is imperative that the Indians correct this in the final head-to-head meeting.

At the very least, the Indians must give themselves a chance in a win-or-stay-home series at Washington to end the season. The Nationals hold a razor-thin lead on Milwaukee and Chicago for the right to host the NL Wild Card game. Expect them to grind all the way to the finish.

The Indians will also be without the benefit of a designated hitter in their final series, forcing Terry Francona to decide whether the offensive impact of Franmil Reyes is reason enough to justify starting him in the outfield.

dark. Next. Indians finish a rough weekend on a high note

It’s all or nothing for the Indians in the final two weeks of the season. Their longest winning streak of the season was six games, a feat they accomplished twice. They’ll likely need a third to get into October. Now would be an optimal time for the Tribe to win 22 in a row.