The Indians could face the Rays in a one-game playoff.
The Cleveland Indians' possible wild-card foes are down to two after the elimination of the Royals and Yankees on Wednesday, and it's not a done deal that the Tribe even make the postseason. But, with only four games remaining against the Twins, through Wednesday's games the Indians are one game up on the Rangers for the last wild-card spot and are only one game back of the Rays for the top wild-card rung.
In this piece I will provide the season series between both the Rays and Rangers and Indians, show who is on form and who isn't offensively and on the mound in September for all three teams and touch on defense. I will also discuss what to look for on offense, on the mound and on defense and come up with a prediction for a possible showdown between the Indians and each possible combatant.
Here are the Indians' records in 2013 versus each team:
Let's take a look at the Tribe, starting with the offense.
Offensive ranks: Runs: Seventh (717), BA: 14th (.253), OBP: Tied for seventh (.326), SLG: 10th (.408), HR: 10th (167), Walks: Fifth (551), Strikeouts: Ninth most (1255)
Nick Swisher: .272/.365/.519 slash, 6 HR, 15 RBI, 13 R, 2 2B
Michael Brantley: .379/.391/.530, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 8 R, 4 2B
Lonnie Chisenhall: .270/.308/.595, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 6 R, 3 2B
Jason Kipnis: .247/.333/.325, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 13 R, 3 2B
Michael Bourn: .220/.283/.366, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 12 R, 3 2B, 3 3B
Drew Stubbs: .152/.216/.196, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 5 R, 2 2B
The Indians are having a pretty good month offensively, having out scored their opponents in September and having outhit their foes in every slash category and each offensive category save for hits and triples.
Some of the right guys (Swisher, Cabrera) are getting hot at the right time, but the Tribe certainly would like a little more consistency from tablesetter Bourn and from Carlos Santana and Kipnis.
In a one-game series, one key hit at the right time or a botched grounder at the wrong time could be the difference.
I'll give you a couple of key guys to look at, other than the obvious ones.
If the Indians play the Rays, Lonnie Chisenhall may not even play, as he has been often held out of the lineup when a tough lefty is facing the Indians. That tough lefty, despite his struggles this season, would almost surely be David Price.
Mike Aviles would probably take Chisenhall's spot in the lineup in this scenario, but if the Tribe face the Rangers, they would probably have to take on the Rangers' righty Yu Darvish. So, Chisenhall would probably be in the lineup. If Chisenhall could continue his hot hitting this month against Darvish, that could be the difference.
Ryan Raburn could be another player who could shine and make a big difference in a one-game playoff. Super-sub Raburn seems to deliver whenever he is in the lineup, and with only 229 at-bats is second to Carlos Santana (.377) on the team in on-base percentage (.361) and leads the squad in slugging percentage (.559) and OPS (.920).
How is the Tribe faring on the mound?
Pitching ranks: ERA: 15th (3.84), WHIP: Tied for 22nd (1.33), BAA: Tied for 10th (.248), HR allowed: 21st most: (145)
Ubaldo Jimenez: 5 GS, 34.2 IP, 3-0, 1.04 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 9.87 K/9, 1.56 BB/9
Bryan Shaw: 12 G, 13.2 IP, 1 SV, 4-0, 0.00 ERA, .59 WHIP, 8.56 K/9, .66 BB/9
Joe Smith: 11 G, 10 IP, 1-0, .90 ERA, .90 WHIP, 8.10 K/9, 2.70 BB/9
Chris Perez: 9 G, 8.2 IP, 4 SV, 1 BS, 0-1, 6.23 ERA, 2.19 WHIP, 13.50 K/9, 5.19 BB/9
Nick Hagadone: 8 G, 6 IP, 0-0, 6.00 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 10.50 K/9, 7.50 BB/9
Rich Hill: 6 G, 2 IP, 0-0, 9.00 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 18.00 K/9, 13.50 BB/9
Jimenez's turnaround from where he was before the All-Star break to now has been remarkable. The Indians right-hander has lowered his first-half marks of ERA (4.56), WHIP (1.49) and BB/9 (4.83) to second-half numbers of 1.86, 1.16 and 3.03 respectively. He has also raised his first-half 8.57 K/9 mark to 10.13 after the break.
It bodes very well for the Tribe that Jimenez is at that top of his game since Indians ace Justin Masterson is just now coming back from an oblique injury that has sidelined him for two weeks. If Masterson (14-10, 3.50 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) were completely healthy, he would be the starter for the Wild-Card Game.
Since Masterson's availability, and even if ready to go, effectiveness, would be very much in question for a one-game playoff, Jimenez would have to be the guy to take the ball. He has earned it and is pitching like an ace.
Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer reported Indians manager Terry Francona said, ""Whether we have Masterson sidelined or not, when Ubaldo takes the ball right now, he has legitimate, top-of-the-league stuff."
Another key guy in a potential one-game playoff would be closer Chris Perez. In a five- or seven-game playoff series, the Tribe might be able to overcome a prototypical Chris Perez blowup. Not so in a one-game, do-or-die contest. A Chris Perez meltdown means the Indians probably are one-and-done. Perez would have to be on his game in this clash.
Also scary is that the Indians are down to one reliable lefty out of the pen. If the game comes down to a bullpen battle, things could get dicey for the Tribe.
Let's take a look at the Indians defense.
Defensive rankings: Errors: Tied for 10th most (99), Fielding percentage: Tied for 19th (.983)
The Indians defense has been very shaky at times with Nick Swisher (19th) at first, Jason Kipnis (14th) at second, Lonnie Chisenhall (20th) at third and Drew Stubbs (last) in right ranking toward the bottom in fielding percentage at their respective positions. (Note: Chisenhall isn't ranked among ESPN's qualified third basemen as he hasn't played in enough games but would be ranked near the bottom.)
The outfield defense has been quite a bit more solid led by Michael Brantley who hasn't yet committed an error in 2013 and Michael Bourn (12th).
One critical error at the wrong time could be huge in a loser-goes-home game. The Indians couldn't afford to have a loose defensive game.
Here's how Texas looks:
Offensive ranks: Runs: Eighth (704), BA: Tied for seventh (.261), OBP: 12th (.323), SLG: Tied for seventh (.412), HR: Tied for seventh (173), Walks: Tied for 19th (450), Strikeouts: Second least (1039)
Elvis Andrus: .321/.360/.449, 3 HR, 18 RBI, 12 R, 1 2B, 6 SB
Alex Rios: .304/.340/.533, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 10 R, 4 2B, 1 3B, 8 SB
Adrian Beltre: .261/.327/.341, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 6 R, 4 2B
Mitch Moreland: .175/.284/.381, 3 HR, 4 RBI, 9 R, 4 2B
A.J Pierzynski: .220/.233/.354, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 6 R, 5 2B
It looks good on paper that Texas' biggest offensive weapon Beltre is really struggling in September. But don't let that fool you. Take a look at this link. You see Beltre's face a lot for the Rangers' offensive leaders. He didn't get there by accident. Beltre is a very dangerous, good hitter who gets on base at a good clip.
That, and Beltre typically kills Indians pitching. He had a gaudy .381/.411/.869 slash against the Indians with 11 home runs and 23 runs batted from 2010-12 against them. Another Ranger who kills the Indians? Elvis Andrus, who owns a 34-game hitting streak and had a slash of .391/.472/.500 with one home run and 15 runs batted over that same time frame, absolutely feasts on Indians pitching no matter how cold he is.
One huge factor that could give the Rangers the edge would be the return of Nelson Cruz from his 50-game suspension. According to USA Today, Cruz would be eligible to return for a one-game playoff.
This would add another lethal bat into the lineup of the Rangers. Cruz (.269/.330/.511, 27 HR, 76 RBI) hits behind Beltre in the Rangers lineup and would provide protection for Beltre. Without Cruz, the Indians would probably just pitch around the Rangers third baseman in tight spots. With Cruz, the Indians would not have that luxury.
Despite their struggles as of late, this is still a very dangerous offensive team. Add Cruz and you get an even more potent one.
Pitching ranks: ERA: Tied for ninth (3.64), WHIP: Tied for 10th (1.27), BAA: Tied for eighth (.247), HR: 14th most (155)
Alexi Ogando: 6 G, 2 GS, 18 IP, 2-0, .50 ERA, .44 WHIP, 7 K/9, 1.50 BB/9
Tanner Scheppers: 11 G, 11 IP, .82 ERA, .73 WHIP, 8.18 K/9, 1.64 BB/9
Joe Nathan: 7 G, 7 IP, 3 SV, 1 BS, 1.29 ERA, .86 WHIP, 12.86 K/9, 1.29 BB/9
Yu Darvish: 5 GS, 29.1 IP, 1-3, 3.38 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 10.13 K/9, 5.52 BB/9
Joe Ortiz: 7 G, 8.1 IP, 0-1, 5.40 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 5.40 K/9, 2.16 BB/9
Matt Garza: 4 GS, 23.1 IP, 1-3, 5.79 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 6.94 K/9, 2.70 BB/9
Likely starter versus the Indians Yu Darvish has been struggling a little in the month of September, but the Rangers' 27-year-old is still an elite shut-down starter. The Indians were able to beat Darvish earlier this season, but Darvish struck out 11. In very small sample sizes, Asdrubal Cabrera has two hits in six at-bats, and Nick Swisher is 1-for-7 with five punchouts against Darvish.
Darvish has the swing-and-miss stuff to dominate any lineup, and the Indians strike out a lot (ninth most in MLB), so the potential would be there for a long day for the Tribe.
The bullpen is solid with closer Joe Nathan (41 saves, 1.48 ERA, .92 WHIP), Neil Cotts, Scheppers and Jason Frasor, who all have WHIPs below 1.50.
Can the Rangers pick it on defense?
Defensive rankings: Errors: Tied 19th most (81), Fielding percentage: Tied for 10th (.986)
The Rangers' team marks don't really jump out at you, but they have a very solid infield defense with Ian Kinsler (ranked 5th in fielding percentage), Elvis Andrus (eighth) and four-time Gold-Glove winner Adrian Beltre (10th).
David Murphy is pretty solid in left, and Alex Rios is very good in right with Leonys Martin being the weak link in the outfield.
The Rangers aren't going to beat themselves very often in the defensive aspects of the game.
Who wins a one-game playoff with the Rangers and Indians?
Despite their struggles in September, the Rangers remain a very dangerous team. With an elite shut-down starter in Darvish and a dangerous lineup with a returning Nelson Cruz, the Rangers can make it a long day for anyone.
The Rangers have to have the edge in a one-game playoff.
Let's check out the Rays.
Offensive ranks: Runs: 12th (679), BA: 12th (.257), OBP: Fourth (.330), SLG: Ninth (.409), HR: Tied 12th (161), Walks: Most (576), Strikeouts: 21st most (1135)
Wil Myers: .308/.357/.549, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 15 R, 10 2B
Desmond Jennings: .290/.405/.536, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 7 R, 6 2B, 1 3B
James Loney: .278/.323/.456, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 9 R, 7 2B
Yunel Escobar: .206/.316/.353, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 9 R, 5 2B, 1 3B
Ben Zobrist: .247/.333/.312, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 10 R, 3 2B
Matt Joyce: .109/.259/.174, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R
The Rays lineup is a middle-of-the-road lineup but boasts a legitimate home run threat in Longoria and a potent bat in rookie phenom Myers. Longoria leads the team in home runs and RBI, James Loney leads the club in hitting at .299 and Ben Zobrist leads the team in hits with 160.
Yes, Longoria is struggling a little this month, but he is a dangerous slugger who could make the difference in a one-game playoff. It doesn't look good for the Indians that Myers is having a good month at the right time.
Surprisingly enough, Yunel Escobar (.368/.478/.526, 1 HR, 2 RBI) has had the most success in his career against likely starter Ubaldo Jimenez. Longoria only has one hit in six at-bats and has struck out three times against the Indians righty.
What the Rays lack with in-your-face offensive prowess, they make up for with their discipline at the plate as evidenced by their top-ranked walk ranking, high rank in OBP and low amount of strikeouts.
Jimenez struggled in the first half and has in his career with the Indians. He seems to have turned a corner with his second-half performance, but if his lack of command comes back in a sudden-death affair, the Rays will be patient and put a lot of guys on base.
How about the Rays staff?
Pitching rankings: ERA: 11th (3.74), WHIP: Tied for third (1.22), BAA: tied for second (.239), HR: Tied 16th most (151)
Fernando Rodney: 9 G, 9.2 IP, 5 SV, 0 BS, .93 ERA, .52 WHIP, 7.45 K/9, 1.86 BB/9
Wesley Wright: 10 G, 6 IP, 1.42 ERA, .79 WHIP, 9.95 K/9, 1.42 BB/9
Jamey Wright: 11 G, 11.2 IP, 1.54 ERA, .94 WHIP, 10.03 K/9, 1.54 BB/9
David Price: 5 GS, 33.1 IP, 1-2, 3.78 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.37 K/9, 1.35 BB/9
Joel Peralta: 12 G, 11 IP, 1-3, 4.91 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 9.00 K/9, 6.55 BB/9
Jake McGee: 11 G, 8.2 IP, 2-0, 4.15 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 8.31 K/9, 3.12 BB/9
Price has had a down year (9-8, 3.38 ERA), but he is still a former Cy Young winner who has potential shutdown stuff.
Cleveland roughed him up (5 IP, 10 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 HR, 2 BB) badly in April, so the Tribe probably has confidence they can beat him.
Nick Swisher has had very good success (.324/.468/.459, 1 HR, 2 RBI) in 37 at-bats in his career versus Price, but Asdrubal Cabrera has struggled against the tough lefty, only managing three hits in 15 career at-bats.
The Rays relief corps is 16th in MLB in ERA but tied for third in batting average against and tied for 20th in most home runs allowed. Closer Fernando Rodney has the second most blown saves in MLB with eight, and both his WHIP (1.30) and ERA (3.44) are high marks, so he could be vulnerable to a bad outing.
How good is the Rays defense?
Defensive ranks: Errors: Second fewest (56), Fielding percentage: Second (.990)
With great team numbers like this, you can see that the Rays aren't a team that is going to beat itself and give away extra outs.
The infield is stellar with Loney at first (11th in FPCT), Zobrist at second (Tied for first), Escobar at short (First) and two-time Gold-Glove winner Longoria at third (Fourth).
If the Indians want to score runs, they will most likely have to earn it.
Who wins a one-game playoff with the Rays and Indians?
David Price has had his struggles this month and has been off his game for much of the season. If he were on Cy Young form, the edge would have to go to the Rays. As stated earlier, the Tribe pounded Price earlier this season, so they could be confident in their ability to get to him.
Conversely, Ubaldo Jimenez is very much on his game. This could come down to a pitching duel, and it could come down to which shaky closer blows the save.
The Indians have a little bit of an edge offensively and especially in the power department.
I like the Indians in a close, tight, low-scoring game.
Thanks for reading! I welcome any comments you may have.