CLEVELAND -- Ten days ago, the Indians were hoping to hold on to the final Wild Card spot in order to squeeze their way into the postseason. But after winning eight of their previous nine games entering Saturday night, the Tribe still had its eyes set on a division title. But an 8-0 loss to the Pirates at Progressive Field ended those hopes.
The only chance the Indians had at returning to the top of the American League Central was to sweep the Pirates along with a Reds sweep of the Twins. But now, the Tribe will need help on Sunday to move back up to the No. 4 seed -- and play at home for the Wild Card Series -- after falling one game behind the White Sox following a career-high eight-run outing from Aaron Civale.
“Definitely didn't execute on some pitches, but it's definitely going to sting,” Civale said. “Not the way I wanted to end the season -- or anyone wants to end the season.”
Even with only one game remaining in the regular season, the Indians still have so much uncertainty regarding their playoff future. However, one thing is clear: The Tribe will be either the No. 4 seed or No. 7 seed in the postseason. Cleveland needs both a win and a White Sox loss on Sunday to capture the No. 4 seed, and thus, host the Wild Card Series at Progressive Field.
Outside of home-field advantage as a No. 4 seed, the Indians would likely welcome a matchup against the potential No. 5-seeded Yankees, who went 11-18 on the road this season and don’t seem to have dominant starting pitching beyond ace Gerrit Cole. The young Blue Jays also have a chance to finish as the No. 5 seed.
Meanwhile, if the Indians finish as the No. 7 seed, they leave the door open to face either the Twins, Athletics or White Sox on the road. Though Cleveland was 8-2 against Chicago this season, it went just 3-7 against Minnesota.
On paper, it seemed like the Indians were set up for success, carrying a five-game winning streak into the three-game series against the Pirates, who boast the worst record in the Majors. While the bats were able to come alive in enough time on Friday night to win in walk-off fashion, the Indians' offense was held to just five hits on Saturday.
The struggling offense has yet to establish consistency, but what may be more concerning for the Tribe was Civale's finish to the 2020 regular season. After his first career complete game against the Pirates on August 19, Civale has not looked as sharp.
In his last 40 innings, the right-hander has permitted 28 runs (6.30 ERA) and inflated his season ERA to 4.47 after permitting those eight runs on 10 hits, including three homers, in four innings in his latest start against Pittsburgh.
“He didn’t have his best stuff tonight,” said Indians acting manager Sandy Alomar Jr. “I felt like he didn’t have that life on the sinker and his breaking ball, he couldn’t finish guys off when he got to two strikes. … Basically, it wasn’t his night tonight.”
Civale was already told he’d be moved to the bullpen for the best-of-three Wild Card Series, as Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac and Carlos Carrasco will get the starts. Civale had two years of experience working out of the bullpen in college, but he hasn’t pitched in relief since 2015.
“When it comes down to it, the adrenaline’s gonna kick in and I’m gonna rely on the guys around me to help me get through that,” Civale said. “Whatever the situation is, it’s gonna be pitching at the end of the day. So it’ll be a small adjustment, but it’s not something I haven’t done before. It’s what the team needs right now. It’s only three games. Just do what I can to contribute for this first round.”
If the Indians would advance beyond the first round, the team has already said that Civale would rejoin the rotation, as the AL Division Series stretches out into a best-of-five series. In the meantime, Civale will look to figure out what went wrong in Saturday’s outing and put his four shaky frames behind him in order to enter the postseason with a clear mind and clean slate.
“Everything analytic was in place,” Civale said of his outing. “Some execution was not there. But at the end of the day, I'm just going to have to rely on teammates and coaches to shake this one off and then move forward. The next [start] is going to be the most important one of the season and of my career, so I'm going to have to just move past it.”