Nearly one month now remains in Major League Baseball’s regular season, and the Cleveland Indians appear to be on the cusp of falling into late-season obscurity yet again. However, in a different fashion than in previous seasons, the Tribe have been able to remain in contention throughout the entire month of August.
The Indians had won eight of eleven games heading into a tough stretch against playoff contenders that began with a series against the team with baseball’s best record: the Atlanta Braves. It didn’t take much more than casual fanhood to recognize the importance of the Tribe’s upcoming stretch, as the team found itself just 1.5 games out of the hunt for the American League’s second wild-card spot.
Five losses later, the Indians now find themselves 4.5 games back behind the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays for the second wild-card spot and 8.5 games out of first place in the AL Central.
While the Tigers’ threshold on the division hasn’t really come into question all that frequently over the past month or so, the increasing severity of distance that separates the A’s/Rays from the Indians is becoming a major hurdle rather quickly. A 4.5-game hole is not a desirable starting point heading into the final month of the season for any contender.
Regardless, a Tribe playoff appearance is still not quite out of the realm of possibility. Teams have dug themselves out of much deeper holes in much less amounts of time. What makes these last four losses especially devastating, though, is that a mere victory or two could have kept the team on much more solid ground in the race for a playoff spot.
The Tribe’s recent lack of success against top competition is not a newfound trend. So far this season, the Indians have a combined 19-36 record against the American League’s best teams (Boston, Detroit, Texas, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Baltimore, and New York), including a devastating 3-15 record against the division-leading Detroit Tigers.
The teas listed above would be the Indians’ most likely competition if they were to make the playoffs. So, given the statistic above, the odds of the club making much noise during the postseason are shrinking with every crucial loss.
After the Tribe wrap up their four-game series in Detroit, they will head back home to take on the fellow wild-card-chasing Baltimore Orioles. Luckily, the rest of the schedule – which features contests against the New York Mets, Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, and Minnesota Twins - bodes well for the Indians. Combined, the teams left on the schedule have a winning percentage of .430.
This should be welcoming news for the struggling Tribe bats, who have been in a collective funk since the All-Star break. Fans shouldn’t get too excited about the recent acquisitions of Jason Kubel (.220/5 HR/32 RBI) and Kelly Shoppach (.196/3 HR/9 RBI), but at least the front office recognizes that the offense is in a serious rut and needs some extra assistance.
Regardless of who the team acquires between now and the end of the season, the fact of the matter still remains the same: If the Indians are to have any chance of competing in the 2013 postseason, they need to at least play .500-ball against the MLB’s best competition. Until then, it’ll be hard to convince anyone that the 2013 Indians are a legitimate contender.