With a 162-game schedule, there often isn’t a sense of urgency in April. For the Cleveland Indians, March and April feature 33 games, including a run through AL East heavyweights. A quick start may be the most critical key to their 2020 success.
With the NFL season ending, it just means that the MLB season is almost upon us! While Cleveland Indians fans patiently (ha!) wait for the team to potentially add some last minute pieces, what is already certain is the MLB schedule. The Indians have a very busy start to the season with 33 games in March/April (or 20% of their season).
The 2019 Indians opened with a 16-12 record in March/April. In that start the Indians were dealing with injuries to Francisco Lindor, who was replaced by Eric Stamets who hit an amazing .049 in his absence. That’s going 2-41 with 24 strikeouts if you needed a refresher.
In 2020 the Indians open the year at home on March 26th vs the Detroit Tigers. Getting off to a quicker start is critical to the Indians’ success. In the opening month the Indians face all their divisional opponents with the exception of the Kansas City Royals.
Having a fast start may be more crucial to the 2020 Indians than the 2019 version. In 2019, the integration of new players and rehabbing injuries meant the Indians were hoping to settle in a little over .500 if they wanted to have a shot later in the season.
In 2020, the Indians are expected to be healthy (with the exception of RF Tyler Naquin), and with the bevy of divisional and playoff-caliber opponents, getting wins will mean more early in the season. The Indians’ playoff competition faced in April will include the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, and Oakland A’s. With a long portion of the season remaining to recover, the Indians would be best served to get wins early, since they won’t be able to control their own destiny against these teams later in the season.
From a marketing standpoint, these big opponents are mostly going to be road games for Cleveland. Which means if you want tickets to see Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts (maybe), Chris Sale, and others, these teams come to Progressive Field when it’s warmer over the summer.
Personally, getting these opponents when the season just begins is the best time. The White Sox will be calibrating their lineups throughout April after their massive off-season, and the cold weather reduces the power from the Yankees and Red Sox. In addition, the A’s are always competitive, but notorious slow starters. The Indians can’t be slow starters themselves.
A big knock on this off-season is that the Indians have not made many moves to improve the roster. Looking at the schedule, this could be strategic to bring the chemistry from 2019 into 2020 to get a quicker start. If the Indians can start with a .650+ winning percentage in April, then they should have done their part to weather an early storm.
It all kicks off with a series against the upstart Chicago White Sox.
On March 30th, the Indians will host the White Sox for a four-game series. The Indians finished 8-11 versus the White Sox in 2019, after going a ridiculous 17-2 against the “Good Guys” in 2018. That flip of success could be viewed as a major reason they missed the playoffs in 2019.
Setting an early tone in the division by winning this early series (not splitting) will give the Indians early momentum they’ll need to face the Twins right after, and then the Rays. Losing a key match-up right out of the gate could cause a ripple effect during the rest of April.
The White Sox are going to look to ride their massive off-season by getting a quick start themselves. After having played so poorly versus Chicago last year, all of the White Sox’ moves may only help the Indians by getting to face new players that are less familiar with the Indians pitching. There are major additions to Chicago that a March series can negate. The power additions of Edwin Encarnacion and Yasmani Grandal will face lake effect winds and colder weather. Jose Abreu has had the most power success against Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar, both of whom will not be facing him this time around.
We’re highlighting the White Sox in April, because the four-game stretch is critical to momentum for the rest of the month. The Indians do also face the Rays seven times in April. The Rays have been in the wild card race in each of the last two years, and this would highlight an opponent the Indians can control their own destiny against by getting wins.
Their match-ups come after major divisional series against the Twins and a road series in the Bronx. While seven games is a big number, the Indians need to have momentum and success before facing the Rays, as opposed to building those advantages during the Tampa series and using them against a lesser opponent like Detroit.
Every fan is excited for Opening Day. There are 162 games in the regular season, and April will always bring a nice dose of rain and snow postponements. Regardless of that, get to the ballpark early and cheer loud. April may be the most important month for the 2020 Indians who will look to position themselves firmly as contenders before the July trade winds swirl.