MLB Playoffs: Is it time to finally trust the Indians in October?

MLB Playoffs: Is it time to finally trust the Indians in October? article feature image

I asked my good friend, Scott Springer (@springco), an unbiased die-hard Indians fan that puts his wagers first, to provide his thoughts as to why the Indians will (or won’t) win the World Series in 2017. I wanted to provide some local flavor, and also selfishly wanted confirmation of my World Series future wager, which you can find at the bottom of the article.

Will the Indians win the World Series?

1908 – A significant year for everyone on the North Side of the Windy City, and a year that is familiar to really anyone with even a basic knowledge of baseball.

1918 – Another meaningful year in baseball history, especially for everyone in the Northeast region of the United States.

The two longest World Series droughts in Major League Baseball history, belonging to the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, have both been put to bed as of October 2016.

I bring these two Biblical baseball facts up because, as you may or may not know from watching last year’s World Series (which you probably did given the absurdly high ratings), the Indians now carry the longest World Series drought wherever they go. You might not know that the Cleveland Indians have been playing baseball since 1894, and believe it or not, have won two World Series, one in 1920 and one in 1948.

1948 – The new date you don’t want to be associated with. The Cubs’ famous drought ended, ironically, to the Indians last year, in a battle of the two longest title droughts in all four major US sports. I attended Game 7 last year and remember joking with Cubs fans during the rain delay that a tie score would be God’s way of preventing both long-suffering fanbases from glory. I mean, only the Baseball Gods could pick that exact moment for the skies to open, right?

The 2017 Major League Baseball postseason is upon us, and in case you were living under a baseball rock, the Cleveland Indians are good once again. You may have heard they had the longest winning streak in MLB history since 1916 at 22 games. Here are your current wagering odds:

2017 World Series Odds:

Los Angeles Dodgers +345
Cleveland Indians +350
Houston Astros +500
Washington Nationals +700
Boston Red Sox +850
Chicago Cubs +900
New York Yankees +1000
Arizona Diamondbacks +1080

Depending on which book/site you want to use, the Tribe is neck and neck with the Dodgers as the betting favorite to take home MLB’s biggest prize. The Indians, listed at around +165 to win the AL Pennant, are the clear favorites to return to the World Series a year after coming within inches of that elusive ring.

Stuckey posed a simple question to me:

"Will the Cleveland Indians end the longest drought in sports, or will they pull a Cleveland?

I could get deep into the analytics (I will touch on a few) that back up the premise that Cleveland will indeed end the streak this season, but I’d rather not put you to sleep.

Numbers backing up the other side of the argument are a little harder to find, but I’m sure I could dig those up too. If the Cavs didn’t win the 2016 NBA Championship, the, "Well, it’s Cleveland" argument would hold a little more weight, but then again, many of these same Indians players blew the 3-1 series lead, something Cleveland is certainly accustomed to.

Why the Indians WILL win the World Series

1. Dominant Rotation Here were the Indians AL rotation ranks on August 30th:

3.87 ERA, 1st
3.55 FIP 1st
3.48 xFIP, 1st
17.4 fWAR, 1st
27.3 K%, 1st
20.1 K-BB%, 1st
.242 AVG, 1st
86 ERA-, 1st

Notice those numbers are from August 30th – BEFORE THE INDIANS WON ANOTHER 15 STRAIGHT GAMES. If their starters continue this dominance in October, just give them the title now.

Spotlight (the obvious): Corey Kluber, making a run at his second career Cy Young, anchors the staff as the Indians’ ace. He finished the regular season with a silly 2.25 ERA, and since June 1st, when he came off the DL, he is 14-2 with a 1.62 ERA, almost a full run better than the next best pitcher, with 224 K and 23 BB. His WHIP over that period? A silly 0.76. How good is that? Pedro Martinez holds the full season record of 0.74, which he set in 2000.

2. Bullpen Dominance You REALLY can’t score on their bullpen. They sport an MLB leading 2.79 ERA, a full 0.30 ahead of the Red Sox and 0.65 ahead of the next closest Dodgers and Yankees. Oh, and they just got Andrew Miller back last week. Miller was the 2016 ALCS MVP who had an overall postseason ERA of 1.17, including an ERA of 0.00 in the LDS & LCS combined in 11.2 IP. Psst, of that 22-game winning streak, the Angel of Death only appeared in ONE game after a knee issue kept him out most of August and early September. They also found a random gem in their system in Tyler Olson, an arm slot swiss army knife lefty who has thrown 15.2 IP this year for the Indians with an ERA of 0.00.

3. Head to Head Houston 5-1, Boston 4-3, Yankees 5-2, Twins 10-6, Angels 4-0:

The Tribe’s record against the AL Contenders. They aren’t scared of any of their nearest competition and can prove it. They also have the most road wins in baseball, so traveling isn’t an issue with this team, either.

0-2 with a ERA of 14.63: Chris Sale
1-3 with a ERA of 8.14: Justin Verlander

The 2017 season numbers of the aces on what are considered the two best teams in the AL outside of the Indians

7-0 with a 2.89 ERA: Trevor Bauer

The career numbers of the Indians’ third starter versus the Astros.

4. Elite Defense The Indians led the AL in fielding percentage this year, finishing a whopping .001 behind the Marlins for the overall MLB lead. It’s not like they don’t have range, either. Spotlight: Francisco Lindor, the reigning platinum glove winner at shortstop in MLB

5. Offensive Firepower And it’s not like the Indians can’t hit. They rank third in the AL in runs scored, sixth in all of MLB. They have a very well-rounded lineup that features prominent switch hitters who all have power. They have no overall weakness from one side of the plate, and truly have no preference as to who pitches to them. They started off the season poorly against left handers, but have since kicked it into gear hitting for a higher average (.268) than they do against righties (.261).

6. Revenge factor The last three representatives of the American League in the World Series have come from the AL Central: the Kansas City Royals in 2014 and 2015, and the Indians last year. That Royals team lost a brutal Game 7 to Madison Bumgarner and the Giants in 2014 then came back to manhandle the New York Mets and win it all in 2015. After Game 7 versus the Cubs, there were a lot of people pointing to that Royals team that rebounded the following year. That’s an unfair comparison to make to any team, even if they are from the same division and in smaller markets. However, the regular season is done, and the Tribe appears to have come back bigger, better, badder and stronger. The Indians started off the 2017 season a little hung over, but have shook it with a 22-game winning streak and have the look of a team who is wearing that 2016 Game 7 chip quite prominently on their shoulders. Maybe the Royals comparisons weren’t too premature.

Why the Indians WON’T win the World Series

1. It’s baseball No need to get analytical to identify the most obvious reason why the Indians won’t win it all: IT’S BASEBALL. The famous quote from Billy Beane in "Moneyball" is, "It’s my job to get us to the playoffs. Everything after that is f—– luck." Any number of things can go wrong. Pick one of the age-old baseball clichés such as bats going cold or seeing eye baseballs… anything can happen in October no matter how good you were over 162.

2. Outfield depth While the Indians are not totally dependent on one hitter like the Angels are with Mike Trout, they are dealing with a number of injuries in the outfield.

  • All Star Michael Brantley, who has not played since August 8th, shows no signs of returning soon from an ankle injury.

  • Rookie stud defensive center fielder Bradley Zimmer, who would have brought a much-needed speed element, is out for the season with a broken bone in his hand.

  • Lonnie Chisenhall has been dealing with calf and leg issues for months.

  • Even left-handed pitching hitting specialist Brandon Guyer has dealt with injury issues this year.

The only healthy bodies in the outfield currently are Austin Jackson, Jay Bruce, Abraham Almonte and rookie September call-up Greg Allen. It got so bad that Jason Kipnis, a center fielder in college at Arizona State, moved from his home at second base to get some reps at center in case they need the added depth there. If the outfield play is unstable, it would be hard to envision the Indians hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy come late this Fall

3. Starter Inexperience Corey Kluber proved his worth in last year’s postseason by pitching numerous times on short rest, consistently going deep into games with absurd effectiveness. The Indians had to rely even more on their ace last year since Carlos Carrasco was not available, Trevor Bauer took a drone to his hand in the ALCS and Danny Salazar was in the bullpen. Carrasco and Bauer, while currently in great form, did not get the true postseason experience a year ago. Right now, Salazar isn’t even in the rotation and is a question mark to even make the postseason roster. Mike Clevinger had a fabulous year, and is the clear cut fourth starter. However, he also lacks in the experience department. Putting Kluber aside, Carrasco, Bauer and Clevinger have very limited postseason starting experience. Even if Corey Kluber pitches like Corey Kluber, Cleveland will still need production from their other starters on the big stage in order to win it all.

4. Bryan Shaw The Indians bullpen relies on the three-headed monster of Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Miller, when healthy, in my opinion, is the toughest pitcher to face in all of baseball, starter or reliever. Shaw and Allen are extremely solid relievers with crazy movement and velocity on their pitches. That being said, those two are not in the same league as Andrew Miller. Shaw and Allen find themselves in many more high leverage situations since they have a tendency to get a little wild, which forces them to come across the middle of the plate with less speed when behind in the count. Any baseball fan knows this is the recipe for disaster, regardless of stuff. Andrew Miller obviously needs to stay healthy, but he still can’t pitch every inning of relief. If Shaw, who was a little shaky in September, can’t find his location in high leverage spots, it could cost the Indians a game, and potentially a series.

5. 3-10 The Indians are 3-10 on the road in interleague play, which could become especially problematic if they end up in the World Series against the Dodgers, the only team with a better record. There are bad AL hitting pitching staffs, and then there are the Indians. All that being said, the Tribe did win two out of three at Wrigley in the 2016 World Series, for what it’s worth.

6. Catcher Production The Indians catchers have combined for 18 homers and 90 RBI this season. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, the facts are that hitting from the catcher position is this huge gigantic black hole in their lineup. Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez have been atrocious at the plate, batting .224 in a combined 522 at bats. Between the woes at hitting from the catcher spot and some injuries to Brantley, Kipnis and Chisenhall, among others, the eighth and ninth spots in the batting order for the Tribe have been a revolving door of nothingness throughout the year. Their lineup hits a big wall when those positions come up; it can kill rallies and momentum. It is easy in a small sample size of games like the postseason for the guys like Lindor and Jose Ramirez to go cold, which when you include a pitcher’s spot in a NL game in the World Series would leave a gigantic gap from hitters No. 7 through No. 3 that becomes the North Pole. There is your recipe for cold bats, no runs and the extension of the World Series’ longest drought.

Final Take

69 (chuckles) years is a long time to wait for a world title, but it’s not the 86 it took in Boston or even the 108 years it took in Chicago. Growing up in Northeast Ohio, I rank my Cleveland teams in the following order: Tribe, Cavs then Browns. Most people who live here have the exact opposite order. My point is the Tribe is the only team I could ever let get a little too close to my heart, but I’m also too contrarian to simply say THIS IS THEIR YEAR!

You can mine data to come up with valid reasons for both sides of whether or not the Indians will win the World Series, ending the longest title drought in major pro US sports. What does my gut say? It says that this is the best Indians team I’ve see in my lifetime, and probably the best since 1954. They have the talent in all phases, they have best manager in MLB, and they have that chip on their shoulder. I don’t think they have ever been set up better to finish the job. Does the streak get to 70? Or do the people of Northeast Ohio get their 2nd parade in 18 months? You can simply say, "It’s baseball," or even, "It’s Cleveland," which I couldn’t blame you for bringing up, but this is the clearly the deepest and most talented team in the dance, which is why I say put an Indians World Series ticket in your pocket.

I hope everyone turns a little profit while enjoying the MLB postseason, my favorite postseason, because I know we will be hanging on every pitch here in Cleveland.

Indians World Series +350

I would normally never recommend investing in an MLB future this low at the start of the postseason, but this Indians team is that good. I think an NL team can certainly challenge them, but I still would have them as a favorite in any potential matchup. I think they have the best chance of any team in either league of getting to the World Series. I think the Yankees are too young, as evidenced by their home/road splits, the Red Sox lack the pitching depth, and the Astros are still a year away.

They have the best bullpen in baseball, the best defense in baseball, the deepest staff in baseball, the potential Cy Young winner, the potential MVP, the experience, an outstanding manager, strength from both sides of the plate, and home-field advantage against every team except the Dodgers.

Scott also covered a number of other reasons to believe above, so I will just add a few additional tidbits to help illustrate the greatness of this team.

  • First team in MLB history to have three starters with 17 wins and 190-plus strikeouts.

  • First team in MLB history to average 10 strikeouts per nine innings.

  • Corey Kluber finished September 5-0 with a sub-1.00 ERA, winning AL pitcher of the month. He also won the award in July and August.

  • Cleveland is the only team since the All-Star break ranked in the top five in hitting, pitching and defense.

The only weakness I can really find is lack of speed; they are that complete. As a result, I believe that, yes, the Indians will win the World Series in 2017.

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