Indians entering crucial summer stretch

As they packed their bags for a critical trip to Atlanta and

Detroit, the Cleveland Indians may not have realized they could be

bringing something valuable on the road with them this week.

Their season.

Although the Indians don’t often look like a playoff team,

they’re in the thick of the AL wild-card chase as August drains to

its final days. The key now is for them to stay in contention.

If the Indians, who somehow found a way to beat Minnesota on

Sunday despite making four errors, have any desire to still be

playing in October, they’ll have to survive a daunting upcoming

schedule. On Tuesday, they’ll open a three-game series against the

Braves before playing three games against the Central-leading

Tigers, who have beaten Cleveland 13 of 16 times this season.

Then, it’s back home for a three-game set against the Baltimore

Orioles, one of several teams Cleveland is currently fighting for a

spot in the postseason.

It’s crunch time.

”It’s awesome,” said Indians first baseman Nick Swisher, also

the team’s emotional leader. ”This will be a great challenge for

us. We’re playing great baseball and want to keep doing what we’re

doing.”

Hopefully, there won’t be any duplications of Sunday. They can’t

afford any sloppiness against the Braves and Tigers, teams that

have been out ahead of the pack most of this season.

”They’re two of the better teams in baseball,” Indians

All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis said. ”It will be a good

scale to see where we’re standing right now and how we’re playing.

I know if we play the way we played (Sunday), we’re not going to

able to beat those teams but we’ve got a little bit of

momentum.”

There may not be a more resilient team in the majors than the

Indians, who have been counted out this season only to rebound and

climb in the standings.

After being swept in four straight games by Detroit earlier this

month, the Indians were left for dead. But they went 6-3 on a

recent road trip, winning a few games that seemed out of reach.

”It’s not always pretty, fellas,” Swisher said with a laugh

after Sunday’s win. ”We’ve got a scrappy squad.”

And it’s a group that abides by manager Terry Francona’s

one-day-at-a-time mantra almost to a fault. The Indians don’t dare

look too far ahead. All that matters is that day’s game.

Francona will not let his players think about anything but what

is right in front of them, and that’s how he’s having them approach

an upcoming stretch that may define the season.

”I hope we view it as, `Tuesday night’s a big game,”’ Francona

said. ”That’s the best way I know how to do it. I know where we’re

going, just because you have to pack for two cities. Other than

that, there’s no sense concerning yourself about a team that’s on

the next homestand. We need to play well Tuesday.”

The Indians will start rookie Danny Salazar in the interleague

opener at Turner Field. The right-hander has been another bright

spot for a pitching staff that has been much better than advertised

this season. Cleveland’s rotation has overcome predictions it would

be the club’s weak spot.

Instead, Cleveland hasn’t gotten the production it expected from

Swisher ($11 million salary in 2013), center fielder Michael Bourn

($7 million) and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera ($6.5 million), the

Indians’ highest-paid players. However, there’s still plenty of

games left and now would be a good time for any of the three to

start carrying the lineup.

If the Indians can come out of this nine-game stretch still in

contention, the schedule is in their favor. Other than the Orioles,

they’ll only play one other team – Kansas City (65-64) – in

September with a winning record.

”It’s not a make-or-break-the-season trip,” Kipnis said.

”These are games we need to win, games we want to win, but every

game we play will be a crucial game. That’s what you want,

important games down the road and playing meaningful games in

September.

”That’s what we’re doing.”