The second that the postseason bubble was mentioned to temporary Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr., he was quick to say, “We have to make the playoffs first.”
The Tribe entered Tuesday's series opener against the Cubs at Wrigley Field mired in a six-game losing skid that caused it to drop from the No. 2 seed in the postseason rankings to No. 8 in just six days. But despite that, the Indians remained five games ahead of the Mariners, Tigers and Orioles in the loss column with 13 games to go.
It’s not impossible for the postseason to slip through the Tribe’s hands, but the club is still sitting in a good position to at least advance to a Wild Card Series on Sept. 29. In preparation to do so, the Indians will begin quarantining together on Sept. 22 after they return home from a 10-day road trip to be ready to enter the bubble.
“The one thing I’ve been amazed by throughout the last six months is the resiliency of our players and staff and the way that every time we’ve faced a challenge, we’ve found a way to overcome it.,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “This season has been filled with challenges and adversity, and I believe our group will meet that adversity and find a way to succeed despite it.”
So what else can the Indians begin to prepare for, while attempting to secure a postseason berth? Let’s take a look:
Does it matter whether they’re hot heading into the postseason?
The struggles the offense has gone through have been more than evident, but the team is optimistic that those problems can still be ironed out in the final 13 games. But even if the Indians aren’t necessarily on a hot streak but still clinch a postseason spot, will it matter?
“We’ve seen in the past where teams that have been really hot the last week get into the postseason and are not so hot in that first round,” Antonetti said. “But we’ve also seen teams like ours in 2016, where we fought hard to get in. We kind of had a good year but had some ups and downs, but we got to the postseason and things continued to click for us and we got hot and ran that all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. I think it’s possible.
“I think our focus right now, though, is: How do we right the ship? How do we get back to playing winning baseball and win as many games as possible to give ourselves the best position in the postseason?”
Is there an advantage to having a higher seed?
The schedule has been set, but without any home-field advantage, the Indians aren’t as concerned about where they finish the regular season, as long as it’s in the top eight spots in the American League.
“It’s certainly very different than postseason advantages in prior years,” Antonetti said. “So not having home fans and the energy that that creates, there’s not a lot of difference in energy in ballparks at home and on the road. Now even at home where we’re effectively going to be living in hotels, anyway, it doesn’t make too much of a difference.”
How many would be on the roster?
Teams have until Saturday to submit their 40-man player pools. There will be a 28-man active roster for each series during the postseason, with 12 players in the pool available for roster moves.
Could the elimination of in-series off-days benefit the Tribe?
Maybe not as much for a three-game sets like the Wild Card Series, but what this will mean in the five-game AL Division Series and seven-game AL Championship Series is starting-pitching depth will become more important than ever. In previous postseasons, it may have been easier for teams to rely on their top three starters in the postseason, but now that teams will need four or five starters, the Indians’ depth with five solid options will play in their favor.
“We could look at it, in our case, as a competitive advantage, potentially,” Antonetti said, “if we get to the second round and we feel like we have a very deep group of starting pitchers and are confident with any one of our guys starting a postseason game. … I’m hopeful that’ll be a problem for us if we advance past the first round.”