Going into tonight’s series against the Detroit TIgers, baseball fans in Cleveland looked at the four game set as a showdown for the American League Central Division lead.
Tonight’s crushing defeat has Tribe fans all over the area panicking because the pennant race is slipping away.
But Indians’ supporters are missing something else, Going into tonight’s game, both Cleveland and Detroit would make the playoffs because the Tribe held the lead in the wild card chase by a half game over the Texas Rangers.
That’s right, with all of the experts saying all season long that the non-division winners that qualify for post-season play would come out of the tough AL East and AL West, here sit the Indians with a playoff spot if the season ended today.
It doesn’t of course, but no longer is it a shoo-in that the wild card will come from one of the coastal divisions.
Several things have happened to teams in those divisions that give the Tribe a fighting chance at a post-season spot.
It is very probable that one of the wild card teams comes out of the East, with the loser in the Boston-Tampa Bay dogfight getting a spot. Right now, the Rays have a 4-1/2 game lead for a berth.
At this moment, the Indians, Rangers, and Orioles are all within a game and a half of each other for the spot to play either the Red Sox or Rays.
The Royals and Yankees, who figured to be a certain playoff team, are the same number of games behind the Indians as Cleveland is behind Tampa Bay. So, while both teams have a plausible chance to win the last spot, they would have to jump over three teams.
That’s why fans can’t overreact even if the Tigers would sweep the Indians at Progressive Field. If that happened, the Tribe would be seven games behind the Detroit, but they would still probably be within two or three games of the wild card.
And Cleveland would only have three more games against the Jim Leyland’s crew the rest of the way. Even ESPN’s Buster Olney noted the other day that the Tribe’s last 17 games are against the Royals, Twins, White Sox, and Astros.
That’s a lot of games against lower echelon teams if Terry Francona’s squad is in contention going into the last three weeks of the season.
Yes, it would be good to stay within striking distance of the Tigers as well, giving them two chances at making the post-season. And it would be nice to stop allowing the Tigers to steal wins as they did tonight.
However, fans need to look at the big picture.
There are still 50 games remaining in the season, and no matter what happens the next three days, when the Tribe plays the Angels this weekend, they will still be in the playoff mix.
They do have a tough stretch on the road after this weekend, with 18 of their next 21 games away from Cleveland. Among the teams Francona’s crew will play are playoff teams like Oakland, Atlanta, and Detroit.
That more than this week will likely determine the Indians’ fate.