With only 16 regular-season games left before the start of Big Boy Baseball in October, let’s take some good/bad inventory on the Indians:
THE GOOD: The Indians will clinch their third consecutive Central Division title — their fourth trip to the postseason in six years since Terry Francona became manager — during the homestand that begins Friday night against Detroit.
THE BAD: They should have clinched it on their all-dome road trip to Toronto and Tampa Bay that ended Wednesday.
THE GOOD: Unlike last year, the Indians are doing a great job of not peaking too soon.
THE BAD: They lost four of seven games on that dome trip and are a mediocre 5-7 in September and 9-12 since Aug. 22.
THE GOOD: Their division lead, however, keeps growing, and their magic number for clinching the division title keeps shrinking, because the second-place Twins have packed it in for the season. Minnesota has lost seven of its 10 games in September, and since Aug. 21 the Twins are 5-12.
THE BAD: Because of the lack of a division race, the Indians have flat-lined in too many games of late. They have scored three runs or fewer in seven of their 12 September games, and seven of those 12 games have been against Toronto and Kansas City which are a combined 60 games under .500.
THE GOOD: Rookie Shane Bieber’s continued, unexpected emergence into a quality major league starter.
On the just-completed dome trip, the Indians were 2-0 in games started by Bieber, and 1-4 in games not started by Bieber. In the road trip before that one, a seven-gamer to Boston and Kansas City in late August, the Indians again were 2-0 in games started by Bieber and 1-4 in games not started by Bieber. In other words, Bieber has been the winning pitcher in four of the Indians’ last six road wins.
He’s 10-3, a winning percentage of .769, which would rank third in the American League if he had enough decisions to qualify (he’s one decision shy of qualifying).
THE BAD: Trevor Bauer, who if he hadn’t suffered that freak injury — a stress fracture in his right leg, the result of getting hit by a line drive — would probably be the leading candidate to win the Cy Young Award, but instead hasn’t started a game since Aug. 11. There’s also no timetable for when Bauer WILL start a game — and the postseason starts in three weeks.
THE GOOD: It’s Trevor Bauer. If anyone can come back in time from what Bauer is trying to come back from, it’s Bauer. Without being melodramatic, the stakes are enormous. If Bauer returns in time for the postseason, and if he can pitch reasonably close to the level he pitched prior to the injury, the Indians would have the best rotation of any team in the postseason. That would be huge.
THE BAD: Maybe “bad” is overstating it, but something that could make the Indians “nervous” is Jose Ramirez is trending in the wrong direction. He’s a .224 career hitter in the postseason, including a 2-for-20 (.100) no-show last year against the Yankees. His MVP candidacy this year has taken a major hit with his late-season swoon.
After hitting .302 with a 1.029 OPS in the first half of the season, Ramirez is hitting .235 with a .827 OPS since the All-Star break. He averaged one home run every 12.3 at bats in the first half, but went 86 consecutive at-bats without a homer, prior to finally hitting one in the loss Wednesday in Tampa Bay.
It’s hard to see the Indians playing deep into October without Jose Ramirez being Jose Ramirez.
THE GOOD: Order has been restored to the shambles that was the Indians bullpen earlier this season. Brad Hand, acquired from San Diego in a postseason-saving trade, has helped stabilize the back of the pen. It’s also bought some much-needed time for Cody Allen to regroup mechanically and mentally. Oliver Perez — that 0.95 ERA is NOT a typo — has been sensational from start to finish, and the return of Andrew Miller is a potential game-changer. In two appearances since coming off the DL, Miller has struck out four of the seven batters he faced in two scoreless, one-hit innings.
That gives the Indians a Big Four in the bullpen, which, with their star-studded rotation, should be enough in October.
THE BAD: The outfield defense, if Jason Kipnis is the preferred choice over the speedier Greg Allen. With the older, physically limited gentlemen in left and right field (Michael Brantley and Melky Cabrera), the Indians need youthful athleticism, with plenty of range in center field — not an aging second baseman.
THE GOOD: The addition of Josh Donaldson, especially his bat.
THE BAD: Facing the Astros — the first two games in Houston — in the Division Series.