We have to ask: Are the Cleveland Indians going to lose another game this year.
The Tribe just keep on winning, doing it in walk-off style last night to keep their historic 22-game win streak alive. Down 2-1 to the Kansas City Royals in the bottom of the night last night at Progressive Field, Francisco Lindor had one strike left and hit a double to tie the game.
In the bottom of the 10th, Jay Bruce singled in Jose Ramirez to win it in dramatic fashion.
The hottest team in baseball now — not to mention the last couple decades — is rolling at the right time and now hold a 13.5 game lead on Minnesota in the AL Central and also first overall in the league.
With just over two weeks remaining in the season, playoff contenders are working hard to clinch division titles and wild card berths, while a few teams are still scuffling to sneak in.
Here are 15 contenders, real and provisional, ranked by their chances of getting into the playoffs and winning the World Series (from lowest to highest).
15. Kansas City Royals
As of Friday, there were five teams in the American League still with a mathematical chance of taking over the last wild card spot occupied by the Minnesota Twins. That is, anywhere from 3.0 games out (LA Angels) to 5.5 games (Tampa Bay Rays). The Royals were 5.0 games behind and while they are currently fighting it out in a four-game set with Cleveland (who beat them in a walk-off Thursday), their schedule is pretty favorable the rest of the way. The get three games each against the terrible Detroit Tigers (home) and Chicago White Sox (away), and another three versus the so-so Toronto Blue Jays (away). The Royals also have the added plus of having many of the 2015 champions still on the roster. Despite the gloom and doom being touted in local newspapers, who have written them off, we think the Royals still have a chance. They are still a great contact hitting team (Eric Hosmer is sixth in batting at .325) and while their pitching isn’t the class of the AL, it’s far from the worst.
14. Seattle Mariners
The M’s were in a more advantageous position than Kansas City Friday, sitting 3.5 games back of Minnesota for the wild card with 15 games remaining on the schedule. Add to that the fact they are rolling lately, winning three in a row and hitting the ball a ton against division rival Texas, who they beat 10-3, 8-1 and 10-4 to win a four-game set 3-1. This month, the Mariners are 8-5 and just got “King” Felix Hernandez back. He tossed 3.2 innings of tidy ball in Seattle’s 10-4 victory over the Rangers Thursday night. He last pitched on July 31 so his presence on the staff is welcome down the stretch. Add to that the fact that 2017 staff ace James Paxton (12-3, 2.78 ERA) is also due back from the DL (he was put there on August 10) and the southpaw will face Houston Friday night to start a crucial three-game set. The bats, as seen in the series against Texas, are booming, with meat-of-the-order guys Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager leading the way. Cruz was 4-for-4 in the series finale against the Rangers, with two doubles, a homer (his team leading 33rd) and two RBI. Seager had three homers and nine RBI in the whole series.
13. Milwaukee Brewers
Somehow, someway, the Brew Crew as still very much in it in the fight for the last wild card spot. While they have been just 7-5 this month, they did sweep the NL Central leading Cubs last weekend and just took two of three from the Pirates. There schedule to close out the remaining 16 games of their season is pretty favorable too, as the Brewers have six on road against sub-.500 clubs Miami and Pittsburgh starting Friday. Then they are home for four against the Cubs and three versus Cincinnati, before heading into what could be a vital three-game series in St. Louis (who have an identical 77-69 record to Milwaukee as of Friday). Former Boston Red Sox 3B Travis Shaw is having a career year in his first season with Milwaukee, leading the team in RBI (90) and second in homers (29 to Eric Thames’ 30). Milwaukee is ninth overall in baseball in pitching (collective 4.02 ERA) with fifth-year starter Jimmy Nelson being a revelation (12-6, 3.49 ERA, 199 strikeouts in 175.1 IP).
12. Los Angeles Angels
Written off for dead not that long ago, the Halos climbed back into contention in August, only to lose some ground in September with a 5-7 mark this month. Even still, they are the closest team on the outside looking in, sitting 3.0 games back of Minnesota for the final wild card position. Their remaining games, though, are fraught with peril, as they face Texas for three this weekend at home, followed by a three-game visit from the smoking hot Cleveland Indians the middle of next week. Then they hit the road for three more in Houston before getting somewhat of a break in a four-game road series against the Chicago White Sox. They wind it up with three at home to the Mariners. Their daunting task is made easier with the fact that Mike Trout is still Mike Trout and Albert Pujols is nearing 100 RBI. The wild card is the Angels’ pitching, namely the starters, the best of who was J.C. Ramirez. He is 11-10 with a 4.15 ERA but has been shelved with a partially torn UCL. They will be hard pressed.
11. St. Louis Cardinals
No one, and we mean no one, should ever write off the Cards. One of baseball’s most successful teams since the turn of the millenium, they are sneaky good and sitting just 2.5 games back of Colorado for the last wild card spot in the NL. They are hot at the right time, going 10-3 so far this month and open a crucial three-game series in Chicago against the Cubs Friday night. They are also just three games back of the Cubbies, whose position, too is precarious (they could just as easily win the division as slip out of the playoffs altogether). Helping the Cards’ cause is the fact they have the sixth-best pitching staff (3.85 collective ERA) in baseball. Second year starter Luke Weaver has been hot of late, winning five straight starts to push his overall record to 6-1 and lower his ERA to just 1.89. Hitting wise, they don’t have any eminent boppers, but they are far from worst in hitting (15th overall in batting average). The Cards do control their own destiny, with every one of their remaining games against NL Central teams (seven against the Cubs and three versus Milwaukee included).
10. Minnesota Twins
September needs heroes and in Minnesota, CF Byron Buxton is one of them. The third-year centerfielder bopped a solo homer in the bottom of the 10th against Toronto on Thursday night, giving the Twins a much needed walk-off win. That victory, coupled with a LA Angels loss, padded the Twins wild card lead to 3.0 games, with 16 to go. They entertain the scuffling Blue Jays for three more, before embarking on a key 10-game road trip that includes stops in New York (three), Detroit (four) and Cleveland (three). That set should go a long way to determining their playoff status before closing out with three at home to the Tigers. From top to bottom in their batting order, Minnesota has been getting clutch batting from a variety of sources and will serve them well down the stretch. Veteran Ervin Santana has been great on a staff that is just 19th in team ERA (4.61), going 15-7 with a 3.35 ERA in a bounce-back season.
9. Chicago Cubs
The defending champs could be rated much higher, if their lead in the NL Central weren’t so tenuous. They are just three games up on both Milwaukee and St. Louis (both at 77-69)and could just as easily lose that lead as they could miss the playoffs altogether, considering that the Arizona Diamondbacks are in the first wild card and have a better record and the Colorado Rockies are near identical (80-67 record to Chicago’s 80-66). They Cubs are 7-6 in September and could be much worse, if not for a three-game sweep of the woeful New York Mets this week, by a combined count of 39-14. The bats are booming at a good time and the Cubs certainly control their own destiny with 16 games remaining. The host St. Louis for three this weekend and then hit the road where they will tangle with playoff hopefuls Tampa Bay (two games) before two huge four-game series in Milwaukee and then St. Louis. They close with three against Cincinnati at Wrigley Field.
8. New York Yankees
We are now in the meaty part of playoff bound teams and the Bronx Bombers picked a great time to pick it up, going 9-4 in September (including 7-3 against the AL East). And what better time for super rookie Aaron Judge to return to Rookie of the Year — dare we say MVP — form. The giant outfielder hit just three homers in a horrid August, but clubbed two of his six homers this month already in a 13-4 lopsided win against Baltimore Thursday. Those two taters give him an AL leading 43, which is also second best in the majors to Giancarlo Stanton, who has an eye-popping 54. The Yanks schedule down the stretch looks fairly accommodating, with 13 of their final 16 at home, beginning with three more against the pitching weak Orioles this weekend. They also play six more against Toronto (three home, three away) and three at home to Tampa Bay. Pitching wise, the Yankees are fifth best in baseball with a 3.78 ERA. The hurlers may also have a role in climbing over Boston for the AL East title.
7. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies gained a split of a four-game series with Arizona this week, which is pretty huge for them, considering they were swept by the D-Backs in the month’s first series. The rebounded to take two of three from San Francisco, before sweeping all four games from the Dodgers in Los Angeles last weekend. The Rockies are where they are, 2.5 games up in the last wild card spot, due to hitting. They are sixth in runs scored in baseball, second in batting average and also sixth in OPS. CF Charlie Blackmon has been hitting the hide off the ball all season long and stands third overall with a .332 batting average, as well as 34 homers and 89 RBI. He is part of a potent attack that includes Nolan Arenado (.306, 33 HR, 123 RBI) and Mark Reynolds (29 HR, 93 RBI). Their pitching is just 20th in ERA (4.62), however, when the chips are down, closer Greg Holland has been lights out with 40 saves (second only to Alex Colome’s 44 with Tampa).
6. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox ought not to look in the rearview too much down the stretch. With just a three-game lead on the New York Yankees for top spot in the AL East, they have Aaron Judge and co. breathing down their necks, with a home-heavy schedule in their favor. On the flip side of that coin, Boston hits the road for nine games starting Friday night, where they are a pedestrian 37-35 (compared to 46-28 at home, best in the AL). They visit Tampa first for three this weekend, who they have a 9-7 record against. Then the Bosox head to Camden Yards to face the Orioles, who have owned them this season (6-10 record). The final stop is Cincinnati, which could give them a breather. Boston closes out their regular season with three against Toronto (12-4 record) and four against AL West leading Houston (2-1 record, at home). In Boston’s favor is a pitching staff that his fourth in baseball (3.69 ERA) and Cy Young stud Chris Sale mowing them down with each start (16-7, 2.76 ERA, 278 K in 195.2 innings).
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-Backs are the first team here with a comfortable hold on a playoff spot, as they sit in the first NL wild card berth, 7.5 games up on chasers Milwaukee and St. Louis. They are also 5.0 games up on Colorado for home-field advantage, should those two meet in a one-and-done. Arizona has the third most efficient pitching staff in baseball with a 3.58 ERA, the best of them being Zack Greinke, who is having a renaissance season. He is 16-6, with a 2.99 ERA and 200 strikeouts in 186.1 innings pitched. Offensively, Paul Goldschmidt (.309, 34 HR, 113 RBI) and Jake Lamb (27 HR, 101 RBI) have been carrying the majority of the load. The D-Backs have done well in September with a 9-4 record, highlighted by taking five of seven from Colorado and a sweep of the division leading Dodgers last week. A look at their schedule would lead one to believe they are in the driver’s seat, with all games against teams below .500, including six against the sad, sad San Francisco Giants (who they are 8-5 against).
4. Washington Nationals
We would have ranked the NL East champs higher, if it weren’t for their deplorable playoff record. Despite winning the NL East in three of the last five seasons, they have no series wins in three trips to the NLDS and just five wins, period. Yet, at 89-57 (third best in the majors) they have a slim chance of running down the Dodgers for home field advantage throughout the post-season. Thus, with another trip to the NLDS clinched they may not want to rest their starters right away, as they get to face Los Angeles at home for three this weekend. After that, though, the are on the road against a series of bottom feeders (three each against Atlanta, the Mets and Philadelphia) before ending the proceedings with four at home to Pittsburgh. Run production has not been an issue with the Nats, who have four players with 20-plus homers and 87 or more RBI. Ryan Zimmerman, overall is the most productive, with a .300 batting average and team leading 31 homers and 95 RBI. One of the best starting staffs in baseball has four double digit winners. But, there is that playoff hump coming, wait and see.
3. Houston Astros
With their magic number to clinch the AL West down to three, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion the Astros will be going to the ALDS. That is good news for a team that had to win a wild card game in 2015 just to get to the next round (only to lose to eventual champion Kansas City in a five-game thriller). They missed the post-season in 2016, but have roared back to life this year at 88-58 (14.0 games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels). Lately, though, they have been so-so, dropping all four games in Oakland last weekend after sweeping the host Seattle Mariners in a three game set. They followed that horrible A’s series by taking two of three from the Angels. Should they want to keep pace with the red hot Cleveland Indians and get home field, they too may want to keep the regulars in. They have a nine-game home stand starting Friday against Seattle and concluding with three versus the Angels. They finish with three in Texas and four in Boston. On their side is an offence powered by batting leader Jose Altuve (.348 average) and a pitching staff that has been fairly resilient.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers clinched the NL West on Tuesday, but their fans should remain wary. The team with the best record in baseball (94-52) could already have 100 wins if not for a horrible 3-11 mark in September. They began the month by dropping three of four to San Diego, then got swept — at home no lesss — in three by Arizona and four by Colorado. Their 11-game losing streak ended with a 5-3 victory over San Francisco after dropping the opener. The only saving grace for the Dodgers this month has been the pitching staff, which owns baseball’s second lowest ERA at 3.41. But that is elevated, due to some lopsided losses (like 13-0 to Arizona on Sept. 4). Even Clayton Kershaw got shelled in his worst start of the season, a short 3.2 inning stint (six hits, four earned runs, three walks) in an ugly 9-1 loss to Colorado on Sept. 7. The bats, too, have been cold this month, with only 39 runs scored in 14 games. What does all this mean then? Well, it is just the half way point of the month, and they have won two in a row. Still a formidable squad no one should beat easily in the playoffs.
1. Cleveland Indians
A look at the “Streak” column on the MLB wild card standings sees “W22” beside the Cleveland Indians, who are the only team in the AL to clinch a playoff spot so far. Twenty-two wins in a row, though, could be a good thing, or a bad thing. We hope the Tribe aren’t peaking too early, saving some heartbreaking losses for a fan base long-starved for a championship. Other than a complete meltdown — not likely — expect these Indians, who tasted success last year with a trip to the World Series, to want an even bigger bite this time around. The 22-win train keeps rolling Friday night with the second of a four-tame home set with Kansas City. Then it’s off to Los Angeles for three with the Angels before a stop in Seattle for three against the Mariners. The Tribe ends this already magical season with six games at home to Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox. Overall, they have the best pitching staff (3.35 ERA), with four starters in double digit wins, including Corey Kluber’s great 16-4 mark. Offensively, they have shared the wealth from the top of the order to the bottom. A force to be reckoned with and our pick to win it all.