September is for the race to get into the MLB postseason. Well, it is for four of the six divisional races that are within five games. Or for the three American League teams vying for the two wild card slots. And especially for the five National League teams vying for their two wild card spots and all within 2.5 games. The 2018 Cleveland Indians though are up by 13 games in the AL Central and are back 6.5 games from the Houston Astros for ALDS home field advantage. Playing in the ALDS without homefield advantage as the No. 3 seed in the AL is pretty much locked in.
Do not believe that makes the next month of baseball boring though. As rosters expand to 40 (from 25), the Tribe has to ensure they are prepared to be peaking for their October appearance. Health and performance must factor equally. As such, there have been recent trends by players– both good and bad– worth tracking to see what happens through September. What the Indians show over the next four-plus weeks might affect whether or not their 2018 postseason run mirrors the fun of 2016 or the disappointment of 2017.1
Guys we need to be better
- Kluber’s regression: Kluber has given up three runs or more in three of his last four starts and eight of his last 13. As WFNY’s Gage Will pointed out, he has figured out some ways to be effective despite less swing-and-miss but there are still some troublesome trends in his profile to be tracked.
- Allen’s regression: Cody Allen’s struggles have been obvious for some time, but having two-out-of-three pitches hit for home runs to deliver a walk-off victory for the Kansas City Royals really does put a bow on things.
- Kipnis slumping again or not: 6-for-8 over the last two games has pivoted away from the .190/.280/.267 Kipnis had in the 31 previous games. But, he was hitting .278/.376/.504 in the 33 games prior to that stretch. So, maybe he is in the early beginnings of another hot streak? If so, the Tribe could use it to extend into October.
- Edwin slumping through August: There have been worries of age regression all season long. The good news is Encarnacion has been remarkably consistent throughout June, July, and August hitting .234/.332/.477. The bad news is the .809 OPS would be worse than any output he has had (by over 70 points) since 2011.
Guys who have been dominating
- J-Ram MVP run: How good has Jose Ramirez been this season? There is some talk of August being a mini-slump for him in which he is hitting an .879 OPS that would rank only slightly behind Francisco Lindor’s OPS (.900) for the team lead on the season.
- Lindor Top 5 MVP run: Like Ramirez, Francsico Lindor has seen a mini-slump in August where his home runs have dissipated (only two) and he has been caught stealing four times (though twice because he came off the bag). And, like Ramirez, his overall slash line during this “slump” is still quite good at .284/.360/.402. His defense has also been flashing lately, which will be needed in the tight affairs of the AL postseason.
- Melky surging: You would have been laughed out of any bar back in May had you proclaimed Melky Cabrera would not only start hitting well, but that he would hit well long enough to pull his overall season numbers to above average. Yet, here we sit with Cabrera raking and his overall line .276/.333/.448 (107 OPS+).
- Greg Allen playing like Lofton: Unlike Cabrera, Greg Allen’s overall season numbers do not demonstrate an above average hitter yet nor does he have a MLB history of being a good hitter. So, there is reason to believe he is in for a regression. Until then, enjoy the .306/.348/.387 August batting line over his last 18 games, while providing several highlight-worthy catches.
- Rotation: Complete domination throughout 2018 from the rotation with Carlos Carrasco being the current “hottest” starting pitcher with a 1.86 ERA over his last 10 games pitched. On the whole, the Indians had four pitchers in the Top 12 of fWAR going into Wednesday night’s game, which is just ridiculous. The fifth starter, Shane Bieber, even has a 3.34 FIP and the Tribe is 10-4 in games he pitches.
- Bauer: Little needs to be said about how important it is for Trevor Bauer to return to the rotation. The Indians currently have three other starters in the Top 12 overall of fWAR,2 but Bauer was on pace to win the AL Cy Young Award. He continues to work hard to keep his arm in shape, but returning to the mound before the postseason will be a key.
- Miller’s good but not quite elite stuff: Andrew Miller has not been terrible and his 1.86 ERA since his last return from the DL has been rather good (10 strikeouts in 9.2 innings to only three walks is nice; three hit-by-pitch though, not as nice.). However, the unhittable Miller who dominates opponents and can pitch multiple innings several times a week is not available yet. Even worse, the Indians put him back on the 10-day DL, which is quite worrisome.
- Chisenhall (or not): Terry Francona remarked that Lonnie Chisenhall is not recovering at the pace the team hoped he would, which means it is possible his season (and Tribe career) could be over.
- N.Ramirez: Probably not an important relief option in October, but it is never bad to have as many options available as possible. Neil Ramirez could be such an option.
- R.Davis: Assuming Rajai Davis has a real injury and was not just put on the 10-day DL and had certain sportscasters violate health privacy items by outing certain uncomforts that sound closer to something a team would use to play games with the 10-Day DL system.
- T.Naquin (naw, think he’s out): Having hip surgery in early August does not portend to a quick return to the field. While the initial prognosis was a six-to-10 week rehabilitation schedule, Naquin needs to be at full capacity to offer any semblence of help to the MLB club.
- Cody Anderson, Remember him?: Thought to be a potential mid-summer bullpen option addition, the Indians placed him on the 60-day DL in February with a June hopeful return date. Then, they put him on a three-week no-throw program when he had discomfort rehabbing in June. Then, well, they hadn’t spoken of him since until MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian announced he would pitch his first game of the year last weekend. One inning pitched with one hit and one walk allowed. He also struck out two without giving up a run. Do not expect him to be ready for MLB in 2018.3
- Josh Donaldson: The Indians completed the trade in the last few hours of August for one of the most dynamic bats and personalities of the last four seasons. Josh Donaldson isn’t healthy, so it was a risk. However, if he is healthy in October, here are his numbers 2015-2017: .285/.387/.559, 151 OPS+ (1907 PA – big sample size). Donaldson was also cheap to acquire with this ridiculous upside. No one should be worried about “fit” or really anything else. The Josh Donaldson trade is a “Shoot for the Moon” trade. Now, when you are shooting for the moon, you don’t worry you might fall short… rather you dream about how close you might get.
So, what are you tracking this last month?