Baseball is an ebb and flow game. Momentum can turn on a dime and what a team did the last few weeks is old news by the time the teams walk off the field at the end of the latest game.
Still, in the world of ebb and flow, what the Cleveland Indians have done in the last four weeks is more of a tsunami than a high tide. Heading into Tuesday’s games, the Indians have won 24 of their last 25 games. And they’ve won those in every fashion you can imagine from 9 blow outs (5 or more runs) to 5-1 in one-run games to winning their only extra inning game in that time period.
Even though the Indians have a solid offense, there is no doubt that outstanding pitching has driven this streak. After giving up six runs in the first game of their 22-game win streak, they never gave up more than four runs for the next 24 games. In fact they twirled seven shutouts, three one-run games, and eight two-run games in that span. For comparison, the Astros have only eight shutouts all season long as a staff.
Down the stretch, the Indians play six games on the road (three vs. the Angels and three vs. the M’s) followed by six games at home (three vs. the Twins and three vs. the W’Sox). The Astros play six games at home (three vs. the W’Sox and three vs. the Angels) followed by seven games on the road (three vs. the Rangers and four vs. the BoSox). The Indians play two teams solidly in the Wild Card chase (Angels and Twins) and one on the periphery (the M’s). The Astros play one team in the WC chase (the Angels) and another on the edges (the Rangers). One important piece to how tough the Astros schedule is ties to those last four games at Boston and whether they mean anything. The Sox are three up on the Yanks right now and could either have clinched by that time or be in a death match for the division title. This could be a very odd series to end the season. As things stand, there is a good chance that the Astros and Red Sox could play each other four times and then turn around and play each other in the ALDS.
On to the “evaluation”….
Why the Indians can’t be caught
They have forgotten how to lose. Their momentum is as large as their confidence and having a superior pitching staff and bullpen will allow them to plow through. Of their opponents only the Twins offense is above the league average in runs/game. This is a huge train running down the tracks and it won’t slow down until the season is over.
In the last few weeks, the Astros have been massacred in a four game series with the Oakland A’s (41 runs to 15 runs). The Indians have given up 41 runs……in their last 24 games!! The Astros might match the Indians down the stretch, but since they were 1-5 against the Indians head to head, they have to make up the 1-1/2 game deficit they currently face plus one more game to take away home field from Cleveland and face the wild card winner instead of the Red Sox in the ALDS.
Why the Indians can be caught
The Indians are dinged up right now. Bradley Zimmer (their Jake Marisnick) is out for the season, LF Michael Brantley is likely out until the end of the month, and both RF Lonnie Chisenhall and 3B Jose Ramirez have been missing time with injuries. The baseball gods have a way of evening things out over time. Twenty-two game win streaks are begging for some type of return to normalcy with bad breaks, bad bounces, or bad decisions by the manager.
The Astros have been an extremely good offensive team, when they get all top three players, Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa stroking the ball. The weekend series gave the team hope that both Springer and Correa are breaking out of the hitting funk each has been in since returning from the DL. On top of that the rotation has picked up the pace and now that the Astros are not giving away starts by Mike Fiers any more, there is a good chance they can ride the brilliance of Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel along with solid starts by Brad Peacock, Collin McHugh and Charlie Morton to a big finish to this unexpectedly great year.
Your turn: Can the Astros catch the Indians in the last two weeks of the season?