What needs to happen for a playoff push from the Cleveland Indians?
Well, here we go again. The Cleveland Indians are winners of four straight and have won six of their last eight, creating momentum down the stretch and getting three games above .500 (67-64). The month of August saw Amed Rosario go off at the plate and Emmanuel Clase brought home the Reliever of the Month award, but is it too little too late for the Tribe?
Heading into the series against the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland is 7.5 back in the American League Wild Card race. While that is an uphill climb with time running out, the September schedule could play to Cleveland’s favor and give them a fighting chance at creating some excitement in the standings. But what needs to happen for a true playoff push from the Tribe?
For starters, Cleveland needs to beat who they should beat. That sounds straight forward enough, but if the Tribe can win each series, not even necessarily sweep, against teams below .500 that would be a great start.
In September and a little into October, Cleveland will still play seven games against the Kansas City Royals (59-74), seven against the Minnesota Twins (58-75) and three against the Texas Rangers (47-86). That gives Cleveland 17 very winnable games in the last month that are all series that the team should not only win, but potentially sweep.
While that portion of the schedule is friendly to the team, the other three series out of the division will be challenges. That starts this weekend against the Boston Red Sox (77-59) who took two of three from Cleveland just last weekend. The Tribe then have the Milwaukee Brewers (82-53) next weekend and the New York Yankees (77-56) the weekend after that.
Of those three, the Milwaukee series is the least important. The Boston and New York matchups, on the other hand, could be crucial. As it currently stands, the Red Sox and Yankees hold the two wild card spots in the American League, so winning games against them is the easiest way to gain ground.
Cleveland also has five games against the Chicago White Sox (78-56) near the end of the month that could complicate things as well.
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Oakland, Seattle and Toronto stand between Cleveland and the wild card spots as well, but the Tribe will need to focus on what they can control if they want to stand any sort of chance. Luckily, those controllable aspects could get a boost soon.
Despite breaking even in August at 14-14, Cleveland started to turn it on lately both offensively and on the mound. The Tribe outscored opponents by 19 runs during the month of August while the pitching staff allowed the fewest runs in a month since April.
Cal Quantrill and Triston McKenzie have led a starting rotation that has surprised recently. Eli Morgan and even Logan Allen have looked improved and now the team could be getting Aaron Civale back down the stretch. He just completed another solid rehab appearance and could rejoin the club soon. That would give Cleveland more than enough starting pitching to get through the season.
As for at the plate, the Cleveland Indians are showing life again. The Tribe have scored at least three runs in every game except one since August 8. Myles Straw is looking strong at the top of the order and Amed Rosario and Jose Ramirez behind him have started to find their stride. The occasional pop from the middle to bottom of the order from Owen Miller or Bradley Zimmer is making Cleveland’s offense quietly dangerous at times.
The area that needs to improve is the bullpen. It’s great that Clase was named the Reliever of the Month, but one man can’t do it all. If the bullpen can get it turned around, Cleveland could have a real shot down the line.
The improving offense and stabilizing rotation paired with a reasonable September schedule might be enough for Cleveland to at least make it interesting down the stretch. We won’t be holding our breath on the playoffs just yet, but a few wins over Boston, New York or Chicago could really tighten the race.
Like I said, Cleveland just needs to beat the teams that are supposed to beat. That is obviously easier said than done, but just doing that alone could put them back in the hunt.