The Cleveland Indians are in prime position to make the postseason for the first time since 2007. With just 19 games left in the regular season, the Tribe find themselves 1.5 games back of the fifth and final playoff spot.
In addition to that final playoff spot being within reach, the Indians have an outside chance at grabbing the top wild-card spot if they can make up the five-game difference separating them and the Texas Rangers. The AL playoff picture is a crowded one, featuring nine teams within four games of some sort of playoff spot.
For the Indians, the most likely scenario involves them snagging one of the wild-card spots, pitting them in a one-game playoff with one of six teams—the Red Sox and Tigers will likely win their respective divisions.
In this article I'll break down the matchups between the Indians and each of their eight possible playoff opponents. For the Wild Card Rounds, we'll look at how the teams compare in a one-game, winner-take all scenario, while in the division and championship round matchups, we'll look at how they'll hold up over a five-game series.
We'll begin with the division leaders and an analysis of how the teams compare, followed by the Wild Card Round analysis.
Up first are the AL West-leading Oakland A's.
All stats come courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through play on Sept. 9, 2013.
For this article, we'll use Justin Masterson as the proposed Game 1 starter in all postseason matchups. His recent oblique injury has given way to some doubt as to whether or not he will be available in October. However, as it stands, he's expected back in time (per Cleveland.com).
The Oakland A's and Cleveland Indians could potentially meet up in a one-game playoff to decide the Wild Card. However, the current scenario—with the A's leading the AL West—pits the two in an ALCS matchup.
Oakland has gone just 2-5 against the Indians this season, making this one of the more intriguing matchups we'll discuss here.
To start, we'll compare the two offenses and how they've performed over the 2013 season.
The A's get a ton of extra-base hits. In addition to that, they have some of the best plate discipline in the American League, ranking third in walks and eighth in strikeouts. They don't steal many bases—just 63 as a team in 2013—however, they have a big on-base/stolen base threat at the top of the order in Coco Crisp.
The Indians hold the advantage, however, in batting average and OBP. The team does a great job taking extra bases and their 104 stolen bases rank fifth in the American League.
However, the A's hold sizable advantages in extra-base hits, runs scored and K/BB. The A's will put the ball in play quite often, causing a headache for the Indians.
The Indians starting rotation has received a much-needed boost from the play of Ubaldo Jiménez. In addition to that though, they should get Justin Masterson back in time for the postseason, giving them a solid one-two punch atop their rotation.
The problem here however, is that the A's match up incredibly well with them, especially with Bartolo Colon and his ability to neutralize opposing offenses this season.
Here's how the two starting rotations have performed over the course of the 2013 season.
The A's best the Indians in everything but K/9. Oakland does an outstanding job of limiting baserunners—.300 OBPa on the year—but on top of that, their .394 SLGa bests the Indians, while ranking second in the American League.
Unless Masterson and Jiménez can come out and completely shut down the A's offense, the idea of them winning a series seems far-fetched.
The A's bullpen is outstanding. At the back end, Grant Balfour has been an absolute stud, striking out 10 batters per nine innings while allowing a 2.59 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. The A's don't cough up many late inning leads, as evidenced by their 16 bullpen losses.
The Indians too have just 16 losses by the bullpen; however, the evidence above seems to play in Oakland's favor.
The Indians compare relatively well to the A's in statistical analysis. The problem here though is that A's do hold advantages both in pitching matchups and at the plate.
The A's put the ball in play a lot, and that could cause major problems for the Indians who are one of the league's worst fielding teams—.983 fielding percentage on the year. A lot will ride on what the duo of Masterson and Jiménez are able to do in the series' first two games, but it doesn't look good for Cleveland.
It was only a matter of time before the Boston Red Sox turned their fortunes around after firing Bobby Valentine. The ever incompetent manager took a group of proven winners and turned them into the laughing stock of the AL East.
This season, the Sox took the baseball world by storm and find themselves in a tie with the Atlanta Braves for the best record in baseball. Tall task for the Indians in a five-game series? You betcha.
So long as the Red Sox offense features Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, you have to take them seriously. Though the recent injury to star center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury will undoubtedly hurt them, the team's offense is arguably the best in all of baseball.
The Red Sox best the Indians in every category here except strikeouts, but that's of little concern for the Sox when you consider their incredible team slash line.
Boston leads all AL teams in OBP, SLG, OPS, runs scored and doubles. Additionally, the team consistently wreaks havoc on the basepaths, logging 111 steals on the season, good for third in the American League.
The Indians don't just trail the Red Sox offense; they're literally blown out of the water in a statistical comparison.
The matchup between the two pitching staffs holds the best chance for the Indians to squeak out with a victory. The Indians bullpen is their biggest strength once again, but even the starting rotations are somewhat evenly matched.
The big thing to note here is the percentage at which the Red Sox starters win. The team has used 11 different starters this season, all of whom have combined to win 59.6 percent of their decisions.
The Indians hold slight advantages in SLGa and K/BB, but the addition of Jake Peavy at the trade deadline, along with the impending return of an early-season Cy Young candidate in Clay Buchholz, should be enough to push them over the top against the Tribe.
The bullpen, which has proven to be the Indians' saving grace in this article, doesn't appear to have much of a chance against the Red Sox.
The Sox bullpen isn't the best in terms of save conversion or winning percentage; however, they do a good job of limiting baserunners, while striking out an absurd 9.1 batters per nine innings, while walking just 3.3 per nine innings.
The Red Sox closer, Koji Uehara, has been lights-out since taking over the team's closing gig and easily bests Chris Perez, who is having a decent season in his own right.
The Red Sox hold a decisive advantage over the Indians in in the bullpen and at the plate. Although the starting rotations are fairly comparable, a rotation of Jake Peavy, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Felix Dubront should be enough to shut down the Tribe's offense.
The Red Sox would win this ALDS matchup 3-1.
A playoff matchup with the Detroit Tigers would come in the latter stages of the playoff race—most likely the ALCS. Providing both teams even make it to this point, a best-of-seven series would ensue, pitting the Indians against arguably the best lineup in the AL, outside of Boston.
The Tigers offense features last year's MVP and Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, slugger Prince Fielder, and key contributors like Austin Jackson, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter.
The Tigers rank in the AL's top two in runs scored, hits, batting average, OBP and slugging percentage making the Indians chances of winning a slugfest pretty bleak. Here's how the two teams' offenses compare over the course of the 2013 season.
The Tigers hold an obvious advantage in the offensive battle. Anytime you can stack players like Cabrera, Fielder, Jackson, Martinez and Hunter in a lineup, you'll have a great chance to win ballgames.
The team has one of the most impressive K/BB ratios in all of baseball, and their patience at the plate has led to the second-best team OBP in the AL. Much like the matchup with Baltimore—which we'll look at later—the Indians don't have the horses to compete with the Tigers offensively.
The Tigers rotation features arguably the best pitcher in the American League this season, Max Scherzer. Beyond that though, they have three additional threats in former Cy Young winner and former MVP Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister. Even Rick Porcello—who's underchieved here in 2013—can't be taken lightly.
In comparison to the Indians starters, the Tigers starting staff allows significantly fewer hits, walks and extra-base hits. The only category in which the Tribe can hold a candle to the Tigers starters is the strikeout department, and that isn't nearly enough to make up for the differences in walks, triple-slash components, hits allowed and ERA.
Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jiménez put up a formidable one-two punch, but matching up against Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander is a tough order for any team.
Let's move on to the bullpens.
The Tigers bullpen has been the shakiest component to their team this season, and the Indians best them in nearly every statistic analyzed here. Although the Tigers allow slightly fewer total baserunners, they allow significantly more hits, with more going for extra bases.
The Indians own the edge in the bullpen matchup, but it isn't nearly enough to make up for deficiencies in other areas.
The Indians bullpen has been one of their strengths this season, and it provides them with a brief moment of glory in this matchup. However, the Tigers lineup and starting rotation are light years ahead of the Indians, and a series between these two could be a brief one.
This comparison is slightly different, because the Indians would likely match up against the Royals in a one-game playoff. So let's take a look at how the two teams compare in a winner-take-all scenario.
The Royals offense is clicking at just the right time. Over their last 18 games, the team is averaging over 4.8 runs per game. Comparatively, the Indians have averaged just over 3.6 runs per game over the same 18-game span.
Let's take a look at the two teams and how some of the statistics compiled by them compare over the 2013 season.
By the numbers, the Indians look to have the advantage. The Tribe best the Royals in OBP, slugging percentage, home runs, doubles, extra-base hits, runs and walks.
There's plenty of potential in the Royals offense. Between Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas, the potential is there for a very potent offense. The problem has been getting them going at the same time.
Although they best the Royals in a bevy of offensive categories, the Indians are in a similar boat. The Indians lineup has been solidly in the middle of the pack this season. They rank seventh in runs scored, eighth in batting average, sixth in OBP and ninth in slugging percentage.
The impressive thing is that they've done this without a regular season's worth of production from Asdrubal Cabrera and Nick Swisher. The two former All-Stars are having well-below-average seasons offensively, while Cabrera has been terrible in the field as well.
Potential doesn't win ballgames though, and although the Royals offense is starting to click, the Indians win the battle here... for now.
The pitching matchup would feature just two starters, Justin Masterson for the Indians and James Shields for the Royals. Neither team has fared quite well against their perspective opponents.
Masterson has been downright terrible against the Royals this season. In two starts against Kansas City, the 28-year-old owns a 6.39 ERA and a 1.90 WHIP.
Shields has been better, but not by much. In his three starts against the Tribe, Shields owns a 4.96 ERA with a 1.78 WHIP, while averaging an equally uninspiring 1.33 K/BB.
The advantage in this matchup of starting pitchers goes to Shields though due to one key reason. Shields is one of the best in the game against teams above the .500 mark.
Here's how the two compare both over the course of their career and this season against teams over .500.
|Above .500 splits||GS||W%||ERA||WHIP||K/9||BB/9||K/BB||H/9||HR/9|
Masterson has had a bit of bad luck against teams above .500, and although the all-around numbers work slightly in his favor, I'll take Shields and his track record for success in big-time spots.
As far as bullpens are concerned, the numbers speak pretty well for themselves.
If a game gets into the late innings and the bullpens get involved, the Royals will win the game.
The Indians hold a slight—emphasis on the word "slight"—advantage over the Royals in the offensive department. However, the matchup between the two starters certainly goes to the Royals, while the bullpens aren't even close.
After the solid performance put forth by Ubaldo Jiménez in Monday night's game against the Royals, it's possible he could draw the start in this game. However, until that move is announced, the Royals hold a slight advantage.
The Tampa Bay Rays are currently holding on to the fifth and final wild-card spot. In theory, they could overtake the Rangers for the first wild-card spot. With the Indians taking the fifth spot, in this matchup, the two would meet at Tropicana Field down in Tampa.
We'll start here with a look at the offenses.
The two teams match up very well on offense, with all three triple-slash components separated by no more than nine points. The Indians score more runs, while striking out just nine more times over the year.
Despite the close nature of the matchup, the Rays look to have the better all-around offense, holding advantages at key positions like first base, third base, shortstop and right field.
The Indians ability to outhit the Rays will hinge on whether or not their top performers—Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis—can get going against one of the best lefties in baseball.
Surely the matchup between pitching staffs should prove better for the Indians, right? Well, maybe not. The Rays will send reigning Cy Young Award winner David Price to the hill to take on Justin Masterson.
Here's how the two stack up in 2013.
On the surface, this looks like a relatively close matchup, with Price dominating the walk rate and K/BB categories. In fact, his only start against the Indians, coming back in April, was one of his worst of the season. Over five innings pitched, Price allowed eight earned runs on 10 hits and three walks.
However, if you look at Price and his statistics after returning from an early-season injury, then you'll see why this matchup belongs to Price and the Rays.
Since July 2, Price is the owner of a sparkling 2.52 ERA with a 0.93 WHIP and ratios of 6.8 K/9, 0.7 BB/9, 9.13 K/BB and 7.7 H/9.
The 28-year-old is arguably the best pitcher in the AL over that span, and he should dominate the Indians in a one-game matchup.
The bullpen stats once again favor the Rays who hold significant advantages across the board. Some key statistics to look at here are the difference in walk rate, strikeout rate, OBPa and SLGa.
The Rays bullpen is stingy; they allow just 11 baserunners per nine innings, compared to the Indians' 12.2. Additionally, the Rays allow significantly fewer extra-base hits, as indicated by a .350 SLGa on the season.
The Rays will send one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball to the mound in this matchup. Given his success in the MLB playoffs—3.96 ERA and 1.24 WHIP—it looks like the Indians will have their work cut out for them to beat the Rays.
Even after the suspension of heralded slugger Nelson Cruz, the Texas Rangers remain one of the more complete teams in the American League. The team currently holds a five-game lead over the Indians in the AL wild-card race, and as it stands, the two would face off in a one-game playoff at The Ballpark in Arlington.
The Rangers' offensive attack is a powerful one, featuring the likes of Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Mitch Moreland, Elvis Andrus and super-prospect Jurickson Profar. On paper, the team has enough firepower to outhit the Indians. However, games aren't won on paper, so we'll examine the two offenses side by side.
The Rangers best the Indians in just about every measure available for comparison. The Rangers collect hits at a higher rate, with more of those hits going for extra bases.
Position by position the Rangers win practically every matchup. Factor in the late-season addition of Alex Rios, and the Rangers have one of the most feared lineups in the American League.
The perspective pitching matchup doesn't bode well for the Indians either who would send Justin Masterson out to battle against perennial AL Cy Young candidate Yu Darvish.
The numbers favor Darvish in every measure except HR/9. Darvish strikes out more batters, walks fewer and allows fewer runs per nine innings pitched. In addition to that though, Darvish's quality start percentage is indicative of a pitcher who keeps his team in practically every game he starts.
Darvish took a loss in his lone start to the Indians, but it was a lack of run support that ultimately proved to be his downfall. Over six innings pitched, the 27-year-old held the Tribe to one run on three hits and four walks, while striking out 11.
The Rangers are clearly the all-around favorite in the pitching matchup here with the bullpen matchup being a massacre in the Rangers' favor. Joe Nathan, the Rangers closer, has been arguably the best closer in all of Major League Baseball, and with the rate at which the Indians strike out as a team, a shutout is a real possibility.
The Rangers are clearly the better baseball team in this matchup. On top of the advantages they hold in all three areas analyzed here, the Rangers have the added benefit of hosting this winner-take-all matchup in their home ballpark, making it incredibly difficult to find a scenario in which the Tribe walk away with a win.
Rangers win in a shutout.
The New York Yankees deserve a medal of some sort for hanging around the playoff race with all the injuries they've suffered this season. Somehow, the team has made due with players like Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, Jayson Nix and Travis Hafner.
This matchup, like the one discussed in the previous slide, would be a one-game playoff and an interesting one at that.
The Yankees offense has been pretty stagnant here in the 2013 season. However, they've brought Alfonso Soriano back into the fold, and they have benefited heavily from the return of players such as Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson.
Before we discuss these two as the X-factors in this matchup, we'll compare the two offenses.
The Indians hold a decisive advantage in the offensive battle. However, one has to consider the players the Yankees have heating up at just the right time.
Soriano returned to the Yankees for the first time since the 2003 season. In his 48 games this season with the Yanks, the 37-year-old has put together a successful campaign slashing .248/.302/.509 with 13 home runs, 44 RBI and 30 runs scored.
Granderson returned to the team at the beginning of August and has been a welcome addition to a team that seemed all but out of the AL playoff picture. In his 34 post-DL games, Granderson owns a .250/.361/.402 slash line with three home runs, eight doubles, 10 RBI and 17 runs scored.
Rodriguez joined the Yankees in August after spending the rest of the season on the shelf. In his 29 games with the team, Rodriguez has been arguably the most important mid-to-late season addition to any team in baseball.
Since returning to the team, the three-time MVP boasts a strong .286/.380/.448 slash line with four home runs, five doubles, 10 RBI and 15 runs scored.
These three players bring a much-needed power boost from both the left and right sides of the plate, making the Yankees a huge threat if their pitching holds up.
The Yankees have relied heavily on Hiroki Kuroda here in the 2013 season. With CC Sabathia seemingly falling off the face of the earth, Kuroda leads the team in ERA, WHIP, H/9, BB/9 and K/BB, making him the logical choice for a one-game playoff.
Here's how Masterson stacks up to the Bronx Bombers' ace
Kuroda does a masterful job of keeping the ball in the park, especially when you consider the fact that he makes roughly half of his starts in Yankee Stadium. As it stands, he bests Masterson in ERA, WHIP, BB/9 and K/BB while the two push in quality start percentage.
The 38-year-old Kuroda has yet to show his age, but Masterson has fared slightly better in his two outings against the Yankees this season than Kuroda did in his sole start against the Tribe.
Because of that, and the close nature of the head-to-head matchup outlined above, the starting pitching battle tips slightly in Masterson's favor.
The Yankees bullpen is anchored by the best closer in the history of Major League Baseball. Although he's been shaky of late, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Yankees fumble away a late-inning lead.
With that said though, the relievers who could take the mound prior to Mariano Rivera—outside of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes—are solid as well. Take a look at how the two bullpens stack up.
The Yankees own the bullpen matchup. They strike out batters at a higher rate, convert on more save opportunities and win at a higher percentage, all while allowing fewer walks and having a lower ERA.
If the Yankees get a lead and the bullpen takes over, it's unlikely that the Indians can rebound. Add in the Rivera factor in a save situation for the Yankees, and you can pretty much ensure a Yankee victory.
The Yankees may win the bullpen matchup, but until their offense proves that they can put it all together over a lengthy stretch of games, then there's no way to justify their ability to beat the Indians in a one-game playoff.
Cleveland wins a close one.
The Baltimore Orioles are one of the more intriguing possible matchups for the Indians. The two have faced each other just seven times on the year with the Indians owning a slight edge in the contest having won four out of the seven.
The Orioles can flat-out mash. Between Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters, high scoring games occur regularly in Baltimore. The Indians can't match the Orioles offensively, but they'll try.
The Indians own an advantage in on-base percentage, triples and walks, but that's about where the comparisons stop. The Orioles own a stark advantage in batting average, slugging percentage, runs scored and strikeouts.
In addition to besting the Indians in a multitude of offensive categories, the Orioles rank in the top five in the AL home runs, doubles, runs scored, batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. In the same six categories, the Indians rank eighth, sixth, eighth, eighth, ninth and eighth.
The Indians simply don't have enough firepower to match up with the Orioles.
The pitching matchup could carry the Indians here. Although the Orioles offense is stout, the Indians hold the advantage in a one-game playoff. The Orioles would send Chris Tillman to the hill, while the Indians would, tentatively at least, send Justin Masterson.
Here's how the two compare over the 2013 season.
Masterson owns the advantage over Tillman in ERA, WHIP, K/9, K/BB, H/9 and HR/9. In addition to the advantage he holds in the statistical battle, Masterson looks like a more consistent threat on the mound.
Tillman, over his last 10 starts, owns a 3.38 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP, while averaging 8.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 2.73 K/BB and 7.0 H/9. In that time, Tillman has three starts in which he allowed for or more earned runs.
Over the same span, Masterson boasts a 2.97 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP with ratios of 8.5 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 2.19 K/BB and 7.0 H/9.
At this point in their respective careers, Masterson is a more reliable all-around option. With that said though, the advantage here is slight and not enough yet to offset the offensive deficiencies present in the Indians lineup.
The bullpens here are relatively evenly matched with the Indians owning the advantage in innings pitched, winning percentage, BAa, SLGa, K/9 and H/9. The Orioles do hold the advantage in saves, ERA, OBPa, BB/9 and K/BB, but this is about as close to a push as you can get.
The Indians hold a slight advantage in the pitching matchup. Justin Masterson has been a better pitcher over the course of both the 2013 season and his career.
The problem for the Indians is the offense. The Orioles have a surplus of offensive talent to work with where the Indians have been hampered by subpar performances by the likes of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and others.
Orioles win in a barn burner.