Indians in 2011 playoffs? YES!

Wahoo Baseball – Tribe’s for real

Time to get on the bandwagon, open up your wallet and get to Progressive Field. Enough of the season has been played out – more than 25 percent of it – to predict the following:

  • Cleveland will win 90 or more games this season
  • The Indians will be in the playoff hunt, either for the Central Division title or the wild card, come late September. Cleveland WILL PLAY BASEBALL in the 2011 post-season.
  • Manny Acta will be Manager of the year, unless the 28 voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have a median IQ lower than that of the Three Stooges.

Here are a few facts and a couple of suppositions to back up the prognostications:

FACTS: Cleveland leads the American League in hitting, and – surprisingly – has the 2nd highest slugging percentage in the AL next to the Yankees. Indian pitchers are the youngest in average age but possess the fourth best ERA in the American League. Their bullpen has been rock solid, with Chris Perez (acquired from St. Louis for Mark DeRosa) converting on 12 of 13 save opportunities. Most of bullpen arms are experienced.

MORE FACTS: In a year when pitching is more important than any MLB season in the last 35 years, Tribe starters have been and will continue strong. Acquisitions of younger arms such as Justin Masterson (who came to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez trade), Mitch Talbot (acquired for Kelly Shoppach) and Carlos Carrasco (who came in the Cliff Lee trade) have bolstered an already-stocked farm system that’s produced hurlers such as Fausto Carmona and Josh Tomlin (tied for the league lead in victories). What’s amazing is that the Tribe is 29-15 while Carmona has a 3-4 won-loss record.  Last season Carmona won 13 games; he won 19 in 2007.

EVEN MORE FACTS: Cleveland now knows how to win games, whether the situation calls for a suicide squeeze bunt or an extra-bases blast. It’s the Tribe offense pulling out many last at-bat wins, not the other way around, so far in 2011. There are enough veterans in the everyday line-up to keep it that way.

SOME SUPPOSITIONS:  The Indians are talented enough and wise enough to get to the post-season. No one has even looked for the panic button when players such as Talbot, Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore have gone to the disabled list. Dependable pitchers, some with previous Major League experience, have been called up from AAA Columbus to fill holes on the mound due to injuries. Others, such as reliever Josh Judy, have tremendous “stuff” in their arms and will make an impact. Pitching is still 80 percent of baseball.

Cleveland is 4-4 so far in games against 2010 MLB playoff teams. It’s still early – we have at least 25 more contests against last year’s post-season teams ahead – but we’re more than holding our own against the best teams in baseball. The current stretch of games (series against Boston, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Texas) will reveal more about how competitive we are against above .500 teams. But no matter what, I’ll go out on a limb and say the Indians will “be there” come late September.

Winning consistently in your division (where MLB teams now play 70 or more of their regular season games) is a real key to the post-season.  The Indians are 11-8 right now against Central Division opponents, and they certainly have done well versus Detroit and Kansas City. Beating Chicago and Minnesota regularly, especially when we play these two teams a total of 13 times in September, is important for the Tribe if it will play in October.

Remember though – I teach journalism and mass communication.  I don’t write about sports anymore, and I’m not a college professor who’s a rabid baseball fan. But Cleveland certainly needs a winner. The town’s long overdue for one. And right now, Manny and the Tribe are living up to the new nickname a lot of younger fans are putting on the team  — Windians.

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