The Indians will wrap up the month of August in this upcoming week and it was a month of extremes. There have been two winning streaks and one losing streak of four games each largely due to incredibly good pitching (2.42 ERA, .213 BAA and 191 K’s) and a mediocre at best offense. The worst part of the offense was that they were able to score just two or less in eight different game in August already, although they did win two of those games.
For the final week of the season, the Indians should have one more “easy” series against the White Sox before getting back into play-off quality teams by playing against Kansas City and next week, Detroit. In order to continue playing meaningful games in September, the Indians will have to play both series this week at a higher level than they did against Houston and Minnesota. While they did manage to win both series, they didn’t look very good at any point with even Corey Kluber struggling in his start against the Twins. Chicago and Kansas City will not allow the Indians to get away with similar mistakes to those make against these other, lesser teams.
To start, the Indians got very lucky twice over with the White Sox with Chris Sale pitching on Sunday against another play-off contender, the Yankees, rather than against the Tribe. While not an easy route, the expected White Sox starters of Jose Quintana, Hector Noesi and John Danks are a much easier group to face without Sale. Aiding the Indians is the fact that they will have three starters who have pitched well of late going against them in T.J. House, Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Everyone knows about Kluber at this point, but Carrasco may have been the best Indians starter over the past few weeks. In his first three starts since rejoining the rotation, Carrasco has pitched 18 innings, allowing just a single run and seven hits while striking out 17. He has pitched from the stretch from the start of each game and thrown as hard as he could for as long as he could and it has worked incredibly well to this point. If these starters can continue their success and the Indians can score more than two runs a game, they could sweep Chicago, something that may be necessary to gain in the Wild Card and Central Division race.
The three game series with the Royals at the end of the week will be one of the biggest for the rest of the year, despite having more than a month of games left. Last season, a similar situation occurred when the Indians played six games against the Tigers in August. Had the Indians split the six games, they would have stayed in the race and with their amazing September, would have ended up winning the division. In actuality, they lost all six of those games and finished the year a single game behind Detroit in the division.
Now, they have a second chance. In addition to the three against Kansas City, the Indians will play four against Detroit and three more against the Royals at the end of the season. If they can split the six final games against the Royals, they could use the remaining schedule against below .500 teams (all 19 games against teams other than KC or Detroit are versus below .500 teams) to make up the difference.
Of course, it won’t be that easy to win a series against the Royals as they have been the hottest team in the American League of late, winning 16 of their last 19 and 24 of their last 30. Some of this success had been due to unexpected offense from newcomer Josh Willingham and back-up catcher Erik Kratz. Willingham batted just .210/.345/.402 with 34 RBI in 68 games with the Twins, but has really turned thing up of late, hitting .344/.400/.656 with six RBI in his first ten games with the Royals. Whether it is the improved lineup around him or just the change of scenery, Willingham is definitely looking more like a throwback to 2012. Kratz has also had a great week, hitting two home runs and batting .375 in four games behind the All-Star Salvador Perez.
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Who’s Hot - Who’s Not
The hottest Indians player could reasonably still be Zach Walters, who has done little but hit home runs and strike out, but for the sake of keeping things interesting, this week it will be Tyler Holt who is featured instead. Holt has been given very limited opportunities, but has made the most of them, going 3/7 with a double, two RBI, a run and some fantastic glove work in the outfield in parts of four games. While Walters may have the power, Holt is a more valuable player overall, due to his speed and defensive ability.
While almost any Indians hitter could seem cool over the last week, Carlos Santana added poor defense to his resume. In addition to striking out six times compared to just three hits over the past six games, it was Santana’s error on August 22nd that cost the Indians four unearned runs and the game.