Sitting 3.5 games back for the second AL Wild Card spot, the Cleveland Indians got a little bad news concerning Justin Masterson.
#Indians RHP Justin Masterson said he'll miss his next start. Still has soreness on left side where MRI showed strain.— Nick Camino (@CaminoTribe) September 3, 2013
The news isn't good, especially considering Masterson is 14-10 with a 3.52 ERA and 188 strikeouts this year. He's been the best pitcher on the Indians this year.
But is it news that will put the final nail in the Indians' playoff coffin?
Not Great as of Late
Let's be honest, Masterson hasn't exactly been the greatest as of late. He's lost three of his last four decisions and given up 16 runs in his last 32.2 innings. That's a 4.41 ERA.
To say him missing a start is going to hurt the Indians couldn't be further from the truth considering his performance as of late.
Should the injury need more time and he needs to go on the disabled list, it could have a small effect. But it's not something that should derail the Indians' playoff chances.
The Indians still have to vault over the Rays, Orioles and Yankees to get the second wild-card spot. While three teams is a lot, they're just 3.5 games out. That kind of deficit is nothing with one month to go in the season.
Cleveland is in the middle of a three-game series with the Orioles (Baltimore took Game 1). But, if it can take the next two games, that will vault the Indians over the Orioles in the wild-card standings. Meanwhile, if the Rays (leading for the second wild-card spot) can lose two more times to the Angels (like they did Monday), that's two games the Indians can gain on them.
Even if they can only gain one game, it will still be an improvement and bring the Indians to within 2.5 games.
From there, the Indians have games against the Mets (three), Royals (six), White Sox (six), Astros (four) and Twins (four). Combined, the Indians have gone 30-14 against the four AL teams, with the Mets being the only team they haven't played this year.
The Indians could easily win between 16-18 of the final 23 games, putting them in prime position to take the second wild-card spot.
The Rays still have 14 total games against the Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox and Rangers. The Yankees have 14 total games against the Rays, Orioles and Red Sox; while the Orioles have 14 total games against the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees.
The three AL East teams are going to be beating up on each other, while the Indians will finish the season with a much easier schedule.
Will the Cleveland Indians make the playoffs?
Offense Has to Step Up
The pitching staff will be fine without Masterson for however long he's gone. But if the Indians are going to make the playoffs, the offense has to pick things up.
Over the last 10 games, Cleveland has scored an average of 2.7 runs per game. That's not going to get the job done.
Three of the next five pitchers they'll see are prime for the Indians offense. Chris Tillman (Tuesday) and Zack Wheeler (Friday) are the only ones who may give the Indians fits.
But they'll also face Miguel Gonzalez (4.11 ERA), Jonathon Niese (3.66 ERA) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (10.95 ERA). If that doesn't get the offense licking their chops, then I don't know what will.
In the end, it's going to come down to offense. Unlike the National League, where teams can continually get by with strong pitching performances, most American League teams have to put up more runs to be successful.
Out of 15 NL teams, only four have scored 600 or more runs this year. Compare that to the 15 AL teams where eight have scored at least 600 runs. Credit it to the designated hitter or whatever you want, but the bottom line is you have to score runs in the AL if you want to win.
If the Indians can do that, then they should have no problems making the playoffs...with or without Masterson.