The Boston Red Sox have won 105 games. The New York Yankees look poised to join the Beantown Boys in that club. With the Houston Astros refusing to relinquish their 3.5 game lead over the Oakland A’s, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the American League Wild Card Game will take place in New York for the second year in a row, the third time in four years.
With all of the action taking place on the coasts, what’s happening in the AL Central? What’s going on with the reigning AL Central Champs?
Remember Cleveland? The 2016 World Series Finalist? The team that fought off the Twins resurgence in 2017? You know, the best team in the worst division of 2018? They’re on their way to the playoffs.
That’s right, the Cleveland Indians became the first American League team to clinch their division, despite putting in a rancid 8-11 effort in the final month of the season. That’s both surprising and not surprising.
With the Red Sox putting a historic number in the win column this year and the Yankees playing equally fine baseball, it’s an odd moment when a team like Cleveland pops up to claim their first spot in the postseason. Even if that’s a third-place (although technically 5th place finish in the AL…possibly 6th), it’s odd seeing them cross the divisional finish line first. If the Cleveland Indians played in the AL East they would place 4th. In the AL West? They barely make the podium at third.
How did they manage to stumble their way to the top? Honestly, it’s very simple. Play in a division full of sub-.500 teams.
The Cleveland Indians are the only team in the AL Central above the .500 mark. Within their division, the Indians are 45-24, a .650 winning percentage. Against the White Sox, they are 12-3. Detroit? 13-6. The Kansas City Royals? 10-5. The Twins? 10-9, the closest of them all. The easiest way to the playoffs is to win your division, and the Tribe has done that handsomely. It’s what lies beyond the AL Central that should worry the Tribe.
In 2018, Cleveland has played 153 games this season. 52 of those games have been against teams above the .500 mark. The other 101 have been against sub-.500 teams. In those 101 games, the Tribe is 64-37, walloping lesser rosters to the tune of 5.6 runs a game, and a .269 average.
The 52 games against teams above .500? Not so much. Putting up 3.9 runs a game and hitting .229 against those teams is less than ideal.
On the mound, the numbers are in the exact same ballpark. Against better teams, the Indians pitching staff falters, putting up a 4.77 ERA and a 1.311 WHIP. Against less talented squads, the Tribe staff posts a 3.28 ERA, and a 1.143 WHIP.
Now at they’ve punched their ticket by punching beleaguered clubs in the face, it’s time for them to pick on someone their own size. Unfortunately for Cleveland, that someone is the 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros.
Against Houston, the Tribe is hitting .229 with a .690 OPS when playing at Progressive Field. So much for home field advantage. That number might seem a little better when you consider that the Indians faced Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Gerrit Cole, escaping the full wrath of Justin Verlander.
When the series shifted to Houston, Cleveland was even worse, posting a .188 average, tallying 18 total hits in 3 games. If the records hold, Cleveland will have to face the Astros at Minute Maid Park three times. After looking at the numbers, the offense is lacking the history to instill hope.
On the mound, the numbers are better. Against the Astros, the Cleveland staff has a 3-4 record, a 6.14 ERA and a 1.379 WHIP. I know, you thought they’d be better. They are at Minute Maid Park. In Houston, the Tribe’s staff owns a 3.96 ERA, and a 1.320 ERA, giving up 28 hits in three games.
That’s wonderful news for the Houston Astros, who will most likely walk to the ALCS after facing a subpar Cleveland team.
The Cleveland Indians have lead the AL Central since April 21st, and haven’t had a team come close to catching them. So they really haven’t been tested since the spring. That’s all going to change in October, as they do something they haven’t done in a while: beat a good team.