While We’re Waiting… It all comes down to Game 162

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WFNYBanner wwwThe Tribe is guaranteed at least some post season baseball. “Saturday’s game, originally scheduled to be a 4:10 PM ET start, had been pushed to a 1:05 PM ET start to accommodate a telecast by Fox. But a rain delay of over two hours and 40 minutes bumped the actual start time almost all the way back to its original scheduled start.

By the time the game started, the outcomes of the games of the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays were all but decided. The Rangers defeated the Los Angeles Angels, 7-4, and the Rays lost their second straight to the Toronto Blue Jays, 7-2, moving the Indians into the number one AL Wild Card spot.

If the Indians win the season finale on Sunday against the Twins, they will clinch the top AL Wild Card spot. They could still claim the top spot with a loss if both Texas and Tampa lose on Sunday. In the situation that Cleveland loses on Sunday and both the Rangers and Rays win, the three-game tiebreaker scenario will go into effect, with the Indians hosting a game at Progressive Field at a yet-to-be-determined time on Monday.” [Bob Toth/Did the Tribe Win Last Night?].

This past week has been mostly awesome. ” It’s both exciting and stressful, and twitter follower @themadlibs used the very appropriate term awesome/awful to describe the adrenaline rush associated with watching the Indians down the stretch. Living and dying with every pitch is a great feeling, one that hasn’t been associated with Indians baseball since that fateful Game Seven in Fenway Park back in 2007. My stomach has been churning and sleep has been hard to come by the past few nights, but I’ll gladly take this over another September spent playing out the string in a series of meaningless games while other teams plan for the playoffs.

Naturally, not everything is all sunshine and roses. Unless you’re new to Indians fandom, you are aware that Chris Perez has not been without some struggles in both his personal and professional life this season. He was actually having a decent season heading into September (massive breakdowns against the Red Sox and Tigers notwithstanding), but the wheels have really come off the cart in the last month. In 10 appearances here in the final month of the regular season, Perez has thrown 9 1/3 innings, allowing 10 ER on 18 hits, striking out 13 and walking 5. Amazingly, the Indians are 9-1 in those 10 appearances, and Perez does have four saves. Opposing batters are hitting (hide the women and children) .419/.490/.814 (1.304 OPS!), and over half of the balls put in play off of Pure Rage have turned into base hits. Yikes. The only good thing that’s come out of Perez this month was that his blown save against the White Sox set the stage for one of my favorite walk-off HR’s that I’ve seen as an Indians fan, called here perfectly by Tom Hamilton. And if you don’t think that I bought this “Mardi Gras in September” t-shirt that the good folks at came out with immediately after the game…well, we just don’t know each other that well.” [Al Ciammiachella/The Cleveland Fan].

This Indians squad is a T-E-A-M.  “It has just been a collective team effort this season.

The much maligned front office had a very good offseason finding a few gems in free agency like Scott Kazmir,Jason Giambi and Ryan Raburn, and making some deals to acquire help in the way of Mike Aviles, Yan Gomes,Bryan Shaw, Matt Albers. Sure, they whiffed on Brett Myers and maybe even Mark Reynolds (although his April and May made his signing worth it), and even though Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher have underwhelmed this season, these acquisitions in total have helped signal a culture change in the organization.

The coaching staff has been exceptional this season. Francona has been a leader, something that they have missed in recent seasons. Everyone knows how the team crumbled under Eric Wedge late in 2005 and in the ALCS in 2007, and how Manny Acta’s teams faded quickly after good starts the last two seasons. This season the Indians had a similar rough patch midway through the year, but through Francona’s leadership and unwavering public confidence in his players, they persevered.

And how about pitching coach Mickey Callaway? If anyone is the MVP, it might be him. What he has done to turn around Ubaldo Jimenez’s career, resurrect Scott Kazmir’s career, and have the likes of Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber all take a step forward is astounding.

The starting rotation has been a rock solid group all season. Justin Masterson has been consistent all season, Ubaldo Jimenez was so-so in the first half but was lights out in the second half, Scott Kazmir has been a steady middle of the rotation arm, and Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar have all had varying impacts.

Finally, the lineup. They have 10 players with 10 or more homers, but no one with more than 21. They have seven players with 50 or more RBI, but no one with more than 84. They have eight regulars in the lineup hitting .242 to .286 and do not have a .300 hitter. There is no true standout on offense. Carlos Santana has been the most consistent player, Michael Brantley the most clutch player, Jason Kipnis the most impactful when he is on, and the Goon Squad of Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes, Mike Aviles and Jason Giambi have been key contributors.” [Tony Lastoria/Indians Baseball Insider].

KKKKKKazmir. “In Saturday’s outing against the Twins, who have whiffed 1,400-plus times and have already set their club record for strikeouts, Kazmir piled up 11 punchouts. That gives the Cleveland left-hander 43 strikeouts in 28 innings this month. His rate of 13.82 strikeouts per nine innings is the highest in team history for a single month (minimum three starts).

According to baseball-reference, there have actually only been nine pitchers (min.  three starts and 20+ IP) since at least 1916 to record a K/9 rate of 13.80 or better for a single month. That list includes Randy Johnson (five times), Pedro Martinez (five), Kerry Wood (two), Nolan Ryan (one), Rich Harden (one), Brandon Morrow (one), Yovani Gallardo (one), Justin Verlander (one) and now Kazmir.

Kazmir is the first Indians pitcher in team history to have 40-plus strikeouts in fewer than 30 innings in a month.

“It’s fastball command, to start off with,” Kazmir said. “I was able to attack the strike zone and command. I feel like I keep saying this over and over, but it’s the truth. I feel like I’m going out there and getting them in swing mode and, once I get two strikes, I have quite a few pitches that I’m able to set them down with.”

Kazmir now has 162 strikeouts in 158 innings this season, giving the Indians three pitchers (Justin Masterson, 193; Ubaldo Jimenez, 181) with at least 160 strikeouts this year. That ties a club record, also set by the 2000 (Dave Burba, Bartolo Colon, Chuck Finley) and 1966 (Gary Bell, Sam McDowell, Sonny Siebert) clubs.” [Jordan Bastian/Major League Bastian].

An open letter to a Twins fan. “Honestly, you have to love the Indians a little bit. Scott Kazmir–Scott Kazmir, who a year ago was pitching for the Independent League Sugar Land Skeeters–struck out 11 guys in 6 innings and only gave up 2 walks. Come on. That’s a hell of a story. Or how about Yan Gomes, who caught his 84th game for the Indians this season and has become our every day catcher, even though he’d only caught 9 major league games before this year (for Toronto in 2012). He now has the second-highest caught-stealing percentage in league. I know, right? Who are these guys?

Look, they’re the team who beat the Twins today. It was a good game. Your man De Vries retired the first 11 Cleveland batters and struck out 7 in the first 4 innings. That’s saying something. But the Indians offense has finally found the way to wake up. I think it has something to do with the 5th inning–that’s frequently a big one for us.

Here’s another cool thing: The Indians have won 20 games in September. Do you know the last time they did that? 1948. Cool huh? They did it in 1920 too. I’m not saying this is destiny, and I’m not asking you to root for the Indians forever. But for this post-season, if it can’t be your team, why not the Indians?” [Susan Petrone/It’s Pronounced “Lajaway”].