J.R. Smith might still be waiting on his new contract, but he got his money’s worth playing spectator in the dugout suites Thursday night, as the Indians completed yet another series sweep with a delightfully drama-free 5-2 win over the former champs. That’s right, with a 5.5-game deficit in the Wild Card race and just nine games to go, I am prepared to go full Hoynes and declare the Kansas City Royals’ playoff hopes officially DOA.
Shock! Controversy! Several follow-up articles and live chats to follow! Tweets! More tweets!
Meanwhile, despite reaching their high-water mark on the season at 89-63, Cleveland is neither extending its division lead on Detroit nor gaining much ground on its rivals for home field advantage. Detroit took a twin bill from the Twins on Thursday, suddenly catapulting themselves into the second Wild Card spot after the Orioles lost again to the Red Sox. Those Sox, meanwhile, are looking terrifying of late (eight straight wins), and remain just a half game behind the Tribe, while the Texas Rangers remain merely a half game up.
It’s basically a multi-car pile-up right now and, thus, pretty frustrating for those of us who want to get our postseason projections and match-up ducks in a row. Right now, there are literally EIGHT teams the Indians could potentially face in the ALDS. You don’t know which one it will be, I don’t know which one it will be, and Paul Rudd is still holding out hope it’s Kansas City.
Anytime I take a moment to marvel at the Iron Man of Under-Appreciation, Carlos Santana, I feel like I am trespassing on Michael Bode’s personal property. He has done a better job than probably anybody in the contiguous United States at defending and celebrating the Indians’ unfairly maligned 1B/DH over the past few years. He’s also been chomping at the bit to hold a mini-parade for the latest of Santana’s accomplishments, as the Axeman moved up another spot in the all-time Indians record book last night. Sorry, Bode, stealing your thunder.
Take it away, Hammy.
With his three-run homer off Dillon Gee in the sixth inning (the blast that gave Cleveland the lead and essentially sealed the contest), Carlos not only tied Mike Napoli for the team lead with a career-high 34 dingers, he also slid in next to former Tribe great Joe Carter at the No. 12 spot in that category in club history.
In case you need a refresher on the generally static all-time Indians homerun list:
1. Thome: 337
2. Belle: 242
3. Ramirez: 236
4. Averill: 226
5. Trosky: 216
6. Doby: 215
7. Thornton: 214
8. Hafner: 200
9. Rosen: 192
10. Colavito: 190
11. Keltner: 163
12. Carter / Santana: 151
Would you have guessed Travis Hafner hit more homers as an Indian than Rocky Colavito? Not me. In any case, 151 home runs is a substantial bushel. Even if Carlos had played his whole career for the mighty New York Yankees, he’d now be firmly in their all-time Top 30 in the category.
For some reason, there’s something extra special about him catching Joe Carter, too. If you’re a child of the 1980s like myself, and became a seasoned fan towards the end of that decade, then Joe Carter was essentially your introduction to what a dynamic, power-hitting clean-up man looked like. He was a robotic run producer who could also hit for average, throw a bit, and swipe bases. Dude was a 30/30 man in 1987 and very nearly pulled the feat off the year before (29/29 in 1986) and the year after (27/27 in 1988). Speed, by comparison, is not Carlos Santana’s game. But, of course, I’m going to compare Carlos and Joe right now on some other fronts.
One surprising thing both guys have in common is that neither one made an All-Star team while an Indian. But whereas Joe Carter was generally appreciated as an “All-Star” by the hometown fans, Santana—for pretty clearly no good reason whatsoever—has still never been embraced by the mainstream Tribe faithful.
Some people may have forgotten this and/or don’t want to think about it right now, but Santana could become a free agent this winter. The Indians have a $12 million option on him which would seem like a no-brainer in today’s market, but nothing is a sure thing. As for Joltin’ Joe Carter, he made $3 million TOTAL in his six years in Cleveland.
Santana’s recent hot streak, which has included six hits in the last two days, has helped balance out the trouble spots in the middle of the line-up of late. Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli—two guys who haven’t really heard a peep of criticism from anybody in 2016—are limping down the stretch run a bit, while Santana and Jose Ramirez are still the working class heroes.
Since September 10:
Lindor: .073 AVG, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 10 K, 7 BB
Napoli: .140 AVG, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 20 K, 8 BB
Santana: .370 AVG, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 5 K, 7 BB
Ramirez: .348 AVG, 0 HR, 7 RBI, 2 K, 4 BB
While logic would dictate that Lindor and Napoli will be first in line to get some extended rest when the Indians finally clinch the division, it’s going to be hard for Tito Francona to shift gears into Jesus Aguilar mode and have a nice, fun final week of September. As undermanned as they are, Cleveland desperately could use home field advantage in the playoffs, particularly to avoid having to open up a series in Fenway Park, for example. Rest is important—maybe the mental variety above all else—but it might be more of a sprinkling to go around rather than a purging of starters.
If anybody needs some tips on how to rest up and chill like a champion, the Tribe fan pictured below could prove helpful.
Ubiquitous Rotation Update
Mike Clevinger toughed out five good innings last night, allowing just two runs on an Alcides Escobar homer. His control was. . . Clevingeresque. Which is to say, not good. And therein lies the reason I continue to remain firmly in the Josh Tomlin camp; so much so that, in the right situation, I’d rather have Tomlin throwing a Game 2 than Trevor Bauer. Josh Tomlin in Fenway? Maybe not. But at home, in a big game, the Little Cowboy has the make-up, confidence, and strike-throwing ability to become what Paul Byrd was in the postseason nine years ago.
It’s worth noting that Byrd gave up three homers in his two playoff starts for the Indians that year, but he also got two wins, throwing 10 innings, walking just two, and giving up four total runs. I’d feel a similar irrational confidence with Tomlin on the bump in October, whereas Bauer and Clevinger’s control problems have visions of merry-go-rounds dancing in my worried mind.
MAGIC NUMBER: 4