In my usual half-rapid fire, half-prose form, I’m back with another edition of The Boots. For those unfamiliar with this feature, I assign loosely defined “Boot Up” or “Boot Down” votes to trending sports topics. Today, I’m all about Indians optimism.
Boot Up: Wild Card odds – With a record 11th straight win over the White Sox on Saturday night, the Indians have catapulted into tremendous playoff position. They now have an 80-68 record with 14 games to go and trail by 1.5 games for both AL Wild Card spots, while leading by at least 1.5 games over the next teams.
Although the Indians have taken advantage of their easy schedule with an 8-3 run, they’ve also received some help from unexpected places. Texas is 2-10 in September, Tampa Bay is 7-13 in their last 20 and Baltimore is six games under .500 over the last seven weeks.
Add it all up and the Indians now have 37.7% playoff odds according to Baseball Prospectus. Those are their best odds since the infamous Detroit sweep in early August. Suddenly, these final two weeks of the season will be very interesting.
Last Saturday, I wrote that 90 wins would likely be the goal for a wild card contending team. I’ll change that to 89 today. Here’s what each of the top teams would have to do to reach that number: Texas 8-7, Tampa Bay 8-7, Cleveland 9-5, New York 10-3, Kansas City 11-3, Baltimore 11-3.
Six teams, two playoff spots, one impending do-or-die wild card game. There obviously could be further tiebreakers, a situation Grantland wrote about earlier in the week, but this is as exciting as it gets for Tribe fans while still five back in the division.
Boot Up: The schedule revisited – Last weekend, I stubbornly refused to accept the fact that Texas’ wild card spot might be up for grabs and didn’t write about them at all. In my post, I shared every other contending team’s remaining schedule. So as an update, here’s a quick glance at what is list for the six contenders:
It’s pretty clear, again, that the Indians have the softest final schedule among these six teams. Their biggest series: three games coming up next against the Kansas City Royals on the road. In fact, Monday will see the start of two other huge American League series: Baltimore at Boston for three and Texas at Tampa Bay for four.
That latter series could prove huge for the Tribe if one team is able to deliver a knockout blow to the other. From then on, Baltimore’s schedule remains the hardest because of six games left against MLB’s best team, Boston, along with four at Tampa Bay. The Rays also have a tough road, with an opportunistic 11-game stretch against three other teams on this list.
Ending the season, both New York and Kansas City have favorable road draws against two of MLB’s worst teams. Texas and Cleveland play those exact same teams in the series before. But up next is this: Who will survive next week’s docket of crucial games?
Boot Up: Lineup balance – Overall for 2013, the Indians have scored the seventh-most runs per game and own the ninth-best OPS. It might not seem that way based on the last few months – a topic I covered recently in The Diff – but those are facts about where the team stands mostly because of its hot start.
Yet, despite the 673 runs already, the Indians have no single player with 80 runs scored or 80 RBI or 20 home runs or even a qualified player with an OPS greater than .830. That warrants some discussion about the rare offensive balance of the 2013 Cleveland Indians. Let’s share these incredible facts:
Fact #1: No MLB team since 1901 has had zero players with 24-199 plate appearances. The Indians currently have zero: Jason Kubel has 23, then Jason Giambi has 200. All season, the Tribe has relied upon a 13-man rotation offensively. This odd fact shows the durability and reliability of those batters.
Fact #2: No MLB team since 1901 has had zero players with 1-4 home runs. The Indians currently have zero: Michael Bourn has five. Bourn’s total is the least among those five, while no pitchers and none of the other subs have slugged a homer yet this season.
Fact #3: No MLB team since 1901 has had zero players with 2-28 RBI. The Indians currently have zero: Ezequiel Carrera has one, then Jason Giambi has 29. New additions Jason Kubel and Jose Ramirez are certainly likely to pass this mark at some point. Still again, very peculiar.
Fact #4: The Cleveland Indians have the most players since 1901 with at least five homers and 29 RBI: 13. The previous record of 12 such players had occurred seven times, most recently by the 2010 Colorado Rockies. All 13 of these regulars have achieved this feat and no others as close.
There is a lot of historical rarity with what the Indians offense has accomplished in 2013. It’s not because of their production especially over the last few months, but it’s because of Terry Francona’s depth and balance that has made the bench crew so fun to watch.
Boot Up: The surprising duo – Who would have guessed back in April that Ubaldo Jimenez and Danny Salazar would be dealing gems for the Indians in a playoff race in mid-September? Well, that’s exactly what has happened the last two nights against the woeful White Sox.
Salazar, 23, has had a sensational season in becoming one of the best young pitching prospects in baseball. He led the minors with a 12.48 K/9 ratio and 35.5% strikeout rate in 93.0 innings pitched upon his final promotion. Somehow, he’s nearly maintained that shocking efficiency in the big leagues.
In his eight starts totaling 40.2 innings, the pitch count-limited starter has an 11.95 K/9 ratio and 33.1% strikeout rate. He leads MLB (min. 30 innings) in K/9 since the All-Star Break, which excludes his first start against Detroit. He’s been darn good, yet no one knows what his immediate future might entail.
Jimenez, 29, has pitched like an ace for nearly four months. He is now 12-7 with a 2.72 ERA in his last 25 starts since April 29. For the first time ever in a Cleveland uniform, he just allowed one run or less in three consecutive starts. He’s looking like the Indians’ most reliable pitcher right now.
In 10 starts since July 22, he’s been even better: 1.83 ERA, average of 6.1 innings per start, 3.09 K/BB ratio and a .224/.294/.338 opposing line. With a mutual option on the line for 2014, he’s likely pricing himself out of Cleveland’s affordability.
The Indians rotation was considered a gigantic weakness entering the season. These two have stepped up majorly, especially since the All-Star Break, to keep the team in the playoff hunt. How could you have possibly predicted that?
Jacob Rosen is a long-time contributor to WaitingForNextYear. He's also a writer online at SportsAnalyticsBlog and Nylon Calculus . An Akron native, Jacob is a current MBA student at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. You can follow him on Twitter @WFNYJacob or e-mail him at udjrosen(at)gmail(dot)com.