Indians point to strong finish by focusing on each day
CLEVELAND -- A week remains in the Cleveland Indians season. Six measly games.
And that week begins with a day off and the Indians in position to secure their first playoff berth since 2007.
The games have to be played, but as the final sprint begins the Indians are in the second wild card spot, one-half game back of Tampa Bay and (thanks to Kansas City) one-and-one-half ahead of Texas.
After sweeping four games from the Astros, the Indians play two at home against the White Sox and four in Minnesota, while Texas goes home for three against woeful Houston and four against the Angels.
The Rangers can cut the gap to one game with a win on Monday, but the Indians also know they control their fate.
“We got a week to go,” manager Terry Francona said. “We’re in a fun spot. We have to keep winning. It’s a fun way to come to the ballpark. We’re playing pretty good baseball, and we need to.”
The sweep of Houston marked the sixth time the Indians swept a four-game series this season. That matches a team record set in 1954 -- a World Series season -- and marks the first time it happened in baseball since the Yankees did it in 1961.
They didn’t all come against good teams -- Oakland, Seattle, Houston and the White Sox three times -- but that doesn’t change the fact they accounted for 24 wins in 24 games.
“I don’t care who you’re playing,” said Michael Bourn. “I don’t care if you’re playing the Astros, Rangers, Rays, whatever team it is, it’s hard to sweep a four-game series.”
“Right now with the position we’re in we’re not thinking about who we’re playing or how many games the series is, we’re just trying to win ballgames,” said Nick Swisher. “I think if we go out there and we continue to keep getting the great pitching, it’s going to be a great rest of the season for us.”
Pitching has carried the Indians in a 14-6 September. The team ERA this month is 2.83, but the starters' mark is better -- 2.69. The pitching has been sound for longer than this month though; the Indians have an overall ERA of 3.38 in August and September, and since the All-Star Break the ERA is 3.14, which ranks fourth in baseball and second in the American League.
The sum remains greater than the parts. The Indians used eight pitchers to win on Sunday, and the staff has just three pitchers with 10 or more wins on a team that has won 86 games. Francona has managed a large group of relievers that includes several September callups, and he’s doing it to the team’s benefit.
The same is true of the hitting. There is nobody in the top 30 in hits, home runs or RBI. But five different players drove in runs in an easy Sunday win.
Michael Brantley is hitting .360 with runners in scoring position, .349 with runners in scoring position with two outs. Of his 68 RBI, 27 (40 percent) have come with two outs.
“When we play as a team, we can play with anybody,” Francona said. “And when we don’t, we can get beat. We don’t have the big bashers where we can outhit our mistakes. But when we play the game clean and crisp, we generally have a good outcome. And I’m fine with that.”
The players have bought into Francona’s “one game” attitude -- and they stress they will continue to follow that mantra. Be one run better each day.
“Trying to worry about the whole week is too much … ” Bourn said. “You can’t take care of tomorrow before today. It’s not possible.”
The Indians are already 18 games better than a year ago, and they are in position to reach the playoffs.
“We’ve fought so hard,” Swisher said. “We’ve gotten ourselves in an amazing spot. We just got to finish this thing off.”
“We believe we can carry it out,” Bourn said. “But we got to take it one day at a time. As long as we take it one day at a time, I know we’ll be fine.”