The View From Pluto: A Good September Will Turn Indians Skeptics into Believers
The Indians are turning Cleveland fans into scoreboard watchers with about one month to go in the regular season. The team has been holding onto first place in the American League Central, but two teams in the division are starting to close in. WKSU commentator Terry Pluto talks about entering the part of the season where every game matters.
There are two ways to get to the postseason: Win the division or get a wild card. Pluto says the Indians want to avoid the one-game wild card it had to play for in 2013.
"Indians were 92-70. Home game to Tampa, they lost 4-0. That was it," Pluto says.
Pluto says the team that wins its division gets to build momentum by playing a best-of-five Division Series.
As of Wednesday [8/31], the Indians are in first place in the AL Central, with a 4.5-game lead over Detroit. The Royals are in third place, 6.5-games out of first.
"If they could get in the playoffs and maybe win a round...I think it would turn a lot of skeptics into believers."
Emulating the Royals
Pluto says the Indians restructured their team by looking to the Kansas City Royals, who went to the World Series the last two years.
"Kansas City is a mid-market team. They're not in the top-10 in spending. The Indians are a very analytic team, yet the Royals kept defying the stat guys and getting to the postseason. How did they do this?"
Pluto says the Indians figured out two things the Royals were getting right: They had a great bullpen and they were great defensively.
"They're kind of athletic," Pluto says. "The Indians became kind of this older, clunky team when they had Nick Swisher. Even Michael Bourn, who was supposed to be fast, wasn't. But if you look at them now, shortstop Francisco Lindor can run, and defensively he's sort of off the charts. Jose Ramirez can play any position. He has 20 stolen bases. And they just became more athletic."
Then, the Indians beefed up their bullpen by trading for relief pitcher Andrew Miller of the New York Yankees. "[He's] probably one of the top three in all of baseball. So they picked him up and now they feel, 'We've got a Royals-type bullpen.'"
A tough September on tap
Pluto says the biggest tests are yet to come. The Indians in September will play six games each with the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers.
"Those are going to be really big-time games. The pennant race is here. People are going to be watching the scoreboard. I fear the Royals. They were 11 games out in early August. They have done these late-season rushes before. They seem to be this team that has a sense of how to close the deal. I don't want to be a wild card team watching the Royals win the division."
Will fans show up?
"I'm curious to see if the fans are going to grab onto this," Pluto says. "During the week, they almost have trouble giving [tickets] away. The Indians are in a position where they can really grab some of the fan interest, especially for next year. If they could get in the playoffs and maybe win a round and just get in there and have a nice postseason run, I think it would turn a lot of skeptics into believers."
Home field advantage
"Most of the games in September are at home and they've won about 70 percent of their games at home this year," Pluto says. So, this a time, especially this next week or so when they're home a lot, for them to pile up some wins and give themselves some breathing room. Because it's going to get pretty tight at the end."