22 to go: Analyzing the Indians’ still-remaining Wild Card hopes

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swisher ohio“Team Streak”, the apropos nickname for the 2013 Cleveland Indians, has managed to keep staying alive in the playoff race, somehow and someway.

After a third straight victory, this time an 8-1 win over the New York Mets, the 75-65 Tribe is now only two games out of an AL Wild Card spot. Their playoff odds are again inching upwards, to their highest point in the last 10 days.

Looking at these current playoff odds, the schedules remaining and the breakdown of all of these numbers, one can see what Cleveland needs to accomplish in the final 22 games of the regular season. It’s amazing enough that they’ve somehow battled back to relevance yet again, but there’s certainly some reason for optimism going forward.

Baseball Prospectus is the site for the playoff odds below, and kudos to MLB.com’s excellent postseason probabilities tracker for its complete season data.

American League East
Boston Red Sox 100.0% — 99.0% division, 1.0% wild card
Tampa Bay Rays 67.0% — 0.6% division, 66.4% wild card
Baltimore Orioles 12.0% — 0.3% division, 11.6% wild card
New York Yankees 7.9% — 0.0% division. 7.9% wild card

American League Central
Detroit Tigers 99.7% — 99.2% division, 0.5% wild card
Cleveland Indians 22.8% — 0.8% division, 22.0% wild card
Kansas City Royals 0.8% — 0.0% division, 0.8% wild card

American League West
Oakland Athletics 96.8% — 51.9% division, 45.0% wild card
Texas Rangers 93.0% — 48.1% division, 44.9% wild card

In carving out Cleveland’s path to the wild card, it’s helpful to know where the opening might arise in the AL playoff race. The division is very much out of reach — something that the practical probability people have been saying for weeks. But most particularly, it’s time to not just resort to a wild card spot, but specifically to the second one.

Between Oakland and Texas in the AL West, combined they have 189.8% playoff odds. One of those teams will end up winning the division. As it stands, then, there’s about a 90% chance that the runner-up still will nab a wild card spot. Oakland’s been one of baseball’s hottest teams of late — and over the past 14 months — while Texas has stayed hot even without Nelson Cruz.

Thus, the opportunity for the Indians lies with the falling Tampa Bay Rays. Joe Maddon’s club’s playoff odds have fallen 23% over the last 10 days. This is now the lowest they have been since the All-Star Break. Previously, the AL East operated like the AL West with likely one guaranteed wild card spot, but not anymore with Tampa Bay’s recent struggles.

Breaking it down that way, there are three main competitors for Cleveland to focus on, and all play in the same division: Tampa Bay, Baltimore and New York, all from the AL East. While Kansas City is technically still alive according to the numbers, they seem so far off that it’s not really worth diving too much into their numbers. It appears they haven’t had even 10% odds since May.

Now, focusing on just these four teams battling after the AL West wild card spot, here are their remaining schedules for their final 21 or 22 games of the regular season:

Tampa Bay Rays schedule
2 @ SEA (.454)
3 vs. BOS (.601)
3 @ MIN (.439)
4 vs. TEX (.571)
4 vs. BAL (.536)
3 @ NYY (.532)
3 @ TOR (.461)
Overall SOS remaining: .520
11 home/11 road; 14 above .500/8 below

Analysis: The current wild card favorite has a pretty tough schedule remaining, mostly due to a gigantic mid-week series against the Red Sox next week. That will be the difference if Tampa Bay can regain its momentum. From there, they have a pivotal 11-game stretch against Texas, Baltimore and New York remaining, too. Overall, this isn’t a very favorable stretch.

Baltimore Orioles schedule
2 vs. CHW (.400)
4 vs. NYY (.532)
3 @ TOR (.461)
3 @ BOS (.601)
4 @ TBR (.550)
3 vs. TOR (.461)
3 vs. BOS (.601)
Overall SOS remaining: .523
12 home/10 road; 14 above .500/8 below

Analysis: As noted with these AL East teams, they’ll all be playing each. Baltimore has four left against Tampa and New York, along with a home-and-home against the Red Sox. Again, there are no back-to-back favorable series remaining, with Toronto being the main also-ran they’ll need to beat up on to remain in contention heading into their gigantic final set with Boston.

New York Yankee schedule
2 vs. BOS (.601)
4 @ BAL (.536)
3 @ BOS (.601)
3 @ TOR (.461)
3 vs. SFG (.447)
3 vs. TBR (.550)
3 @ HOU (.333)
Overall SOS remaining: .501
8 home/13 road; 12 above .500/9 below

Analysis: New York has the most favorable finish to the series: Playing disappointing Toronto and San Francisco back-to-back, then an opportunity against the Rays, followed by lowly Houston. They’ll have to get there first, however: A daunting nine-game stretch is underway with Boston, Baltimore and Boston again. If the Yankees can still float above water for now, they’ll have an opportunity late.

Cleveland Indians schedule
2 vs. NYM (.453)
3 vs. KCR (.518)
4 @ CHW (.400)
3 @ KCR (.518)
4 vs. HOU (.333)
2 vs. CHW (.400)
4 @ MIN (.439)
Overall SOS remaining: .432
11 home/11 road; 6 above .500/16 below

Analysis: As expected, the Indians have by far the easiest schedule remaining. In fact, their toughest opponent is Kansas City while all the above AL East contenders play each other multiple times, including Boston. Cleveland also has six games against the White Sox, while playing two other of the AL’s worst teams in Houston and Minnesota. This is a cake-walk schedule.

As the leader, Tampa Bay’s 77-63 record is the current pace-setter in this wild card race. Again, it’s notable that Texas’ 80-60 mark seems fairly insurmountable, which is why I didn’t dig into the remaining schedules for the AL West teams.

Thus, based on the Rays’ current record and the difficult schedule remaining for them and their AL East rivals, I’d estimate for now that 90 wins will be an essential lock for the wild card. That means Tampa Bay could feast upon their three remaining easy teams, while splitting games with their tougher opponents. Same is virtually the case for Baltimore and New York, too.

But for Cleveland, there are no tough opponents remaining. And with a 75-65 record, they’d need to finish 15-7 to reach the coveted 90-win barrier. Right on cue, Cleveland’s 43-18 (.705) record against teams with a .516 winning percentage or worse stands as the best in baseball. Condense that over a 22-game stretch, and the expectation would be 15.5 wins.

It’s going to be tough though. The Indians have only had three non-overlapping 15-7 runs this season, with the last one taking place from mid-July to early August. Obviously, they probably haven’t had a schedule as favorable as this one, too.

These final three-plus weeks will be a wild ride for fans of these four teams. Again, the Indians do seem like the token dark horse — as Grantland’s Jonah Keri pointed out on Monday — which could be the dooming kiss of death.

(Photo: Mark Shapiro/Twitter)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I just wanted to check, again, is this now the “easier” part of the schedule? But look at those odds for the mighty BoSox isn’t that a beautiful thing? Almost as beautiful as the pretty swing of our latest offensive juggernaut the Flying Hawaiin Shane Victorino. Tribe fans you remember him he’s the guy who you didn’t think was worth a free agent contract. Thank you!

  • architrance

    Meh. Your best hope is the Hawaiian picks up the slack of losing Ellsbury for a prolonged period. Just keep beating up those other AL East teams and I’ll be happy.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Yea having Ellsbury go down is definitely not good but he can pretty much miss the rest of the season and the Red Sox will be fine. Hopefully his MRI comes back with some positive news. Good news is Buchholz is back Tuesday finally.

  • LaundroMat

    Wasn’t it that HE thought WE weren’t worth a free agent contract?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    No clue was probably best for both sides.