By Andrew Zuhosky
If you’ve been following the pennant races in Major League Baseball, you’d know that the race for the crown in the American League’s Central Division has been pretty much a runaway in favor of the Cleveland Indians.
After last Sunday’s game vs. the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland’s “magic number” to clinch the division championship was 7 after taking a weekend series against them, winning in an 11-4 blowout last Friday, a 1-0 walkoff in 10 innings last Saturday and dropping a 9-5 decision on Sunday.
Last Saturday’s win came at a price when that afternoon’s starting pitcher for Cleveland, right-hander Carlos Carrasco, exited the ballgame after throwing just two pitches. Carrasco sustained a broken pitching hand, and he’ll be gone for at least the rest of the regular season.
As soon as I saw the news, I thought to myself “All right, this is bad, but hey, they’re still probably going to the postseason.”
There’s still a good chance this team’s clinching the division in the next few days, provided that they haven’t already clinched by the time this column has been published.
How can anybody count the team out, especially now, with a week and a half remaining in the regular season? One thing’s for certain about these guys — they have shown throughout the last six months that they are fighters and have demonstrated that they can be a championship-caliber team.
Just look at what they’ve been able to do this year. Through last Sunday afternoon’s game, first baseman Mike Napoli and designated hitter Carlos Santana had combined for 66 home runs. I would not want to have to be an opposing pitcher who has to throw to either or both of them in the Division or Championship Series.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis and center fielder Rajai Davis have combined for an additional 34 home runs. In my opinion, these four players have been a major catalyst for the Indians’ offense here in the 2016 season.
If they can be at the top of their game when the ALDS comes around and hit lots of home runs in front of a national TV audience on TBS, look out!
What’s even more amazing is that the Indians have done all this without the benefit of left fielder Michael Brantley, whose played in only 11 games this year due to injury. Consider how good the team would be next year with Brantley in the final season of his contract.
One concern that the Indians have, particularly so in the wake of the Carrasco injury, is pitching. If the season were to have ended after last weekend’s games, the Indians would play the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS, which would mark the first time that Cleveland and Boston have squared off in a postseason series since the 2007 American League Championship Series.
As it currently stands, the Indians’ pitching rotation through Game 3 of the ALDS would be: Game 1: Corey Kluber, Game 2: Josh Tomlin and Game 3: Mike Clevinger.
Whether or not the Indians can win a playoff series against a Red Sox pitching corps with the likes of Rick Porcello, David Price and Clay Buckholz remains to be seen, but I really think they’ll be able to do it.