Record, schedule give Indians chance for playoff push

CLEVELAND — There have been ups and downs, walk-off wins and tough losses. There have been injuries and surprises. But through it all the bottom line cannot be disputed.

With 51 wins in the first “half” of the season, the Indians have set themselves up for an interesting and exciting finish — one that could very well include a playoff run.

In truth, that “could” probably should be a “should,” because given the record and the schedule, the Indians have put themselves in a good place for a fun final two months.

All they have to do is avoid a collapse, something that rarely happens in these parts anyway (Hey … it’s a JOKE!).

Sunday’s 6-4 win over Kansas City means the Indians enter the All-Star Break with four wins in a row and a series sweep of the Royals. Cleveland’s 51 Ws  are the most at the All-Star Break since 2007, when it had 52.

This is not a perfect team, one that can dominate at will. Nor is its record against winning teams at all impressive But when it plays like it did Sunday — with many contributing, with good hitting, smart play and continual effort — it can beat a lot of teams 

“I feel like up to this point we’ve played well enough where every game starting on Friday (in Minnesota after the break) counts a lot,” manager Terry Francona said. “And that’s exciting. … Every game we play is so meaningful, and that’s a fun way to play baseball.”

The thing that impresses Francona the most about his group is the most fundamental.

“We’re a team,” he said. “To me that means a lot. We’ve fought through things together.”

Players point to the record despite injuries that sidelined at various points Michael Bourn, Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Swisher, Zack McAllister, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez — six key guys — and they point to not letting a 4-18 stretch beat them.

“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” Swisher said. “You have these super long streaks where we’re doing super well. We had that long stretch where things weren’t exactly going our way. But for us to battle out of that … we could have just rolled over and said, ‘Aw man, we’re not expected to do anything.’

“I think it’s that attitude we have this year. We got 15 new faces this year. You bring over 15 different characters, you’re going to have some attitude. For us I think we need to keep that same attitude. We’re starting to get a little cocky and I think that’s fun to be part of.”

It might be more fun if the Indians take advantage of what’s ahead of them.

Because the schedule is definitely to their advantage.

Of the remaining 21 series, 15 are against teams with losing records — and more than half of those 15 are against teams that have not even won 40 games (Minnesota three times, the White Sox three times, Miami and Houston).

Clearly the toughest stretch — with records heading into Sunday’s game considered — is a nine-game stretch from Aug. 27 through Sept. 4 when the Indians play three in Atlanta, three in Detroit and three at home against Baltimore.

But after that Orioles game Sept. 4, Cleveland does not have a single game against a winner.

The final 23 are against teams that have won just 42 percent of their games: the Mets, Royals, White Sox, Royals, Astros, White Sox and Twins. Combined, those teams heading into Sunday’s games were 271-367 (.425), which projected over a season is 69 wins.

Things can always change — any of those teams could be on a winning streak when they face the Indians — but a schedule could hardly be set up better for a team, much less a growing team learning itself as it plays.

Don’t expect the Indians to start looking at that kind of thing — or talking about it.

“How about we’re playing a meaningful game on Friday?” Francona said.

The Indians 51-44 record projects to 90 wins over the course of a season. That number usually is a magic number for a team to be in the playoff hunt, especially with two wild cards.

But in the first half, the Indians played a tougher schedule than they will after. They finished 17-30 against winning teams, 34-14 against losing ones.

The combined record of the Indians opponents after the break: 578-626, a won-lost percentage of .480.

The combined record of the September teams is worse, and in the first “half” the Indians won two-thirds of their games against those final-month teams (21-10).

“We got a young team,” Swisher said. “We’re not gonna be better than everybody, but we gotta be smart. Situational hitting is crucial for us. Starting pitching is crucial for us.”

Yes, the Tigers schedule also is easy, but that has nothing to do with the Indians winning the games they should win. They have to prove the 51-44 mark is no mirage, but things do seem to line up well.

Fans have demanded a good team for years.

It might be time they simply expect one.