DETROIT -- Jason Kipnis knows what it is like to reach the postseason. Three years ago, the Indians second baseman sprayed champagne on the final day of the regular season, when Cleveland clinched a spot in the American League Wild Card Game.This is different than that run in 2013. On
DETROIT -- Jason Kipnis knows what it is like to reach the postseason. Three years ago, the Indians second baseman sprayed champagne on the final day of the regular season, when Cleveland clinched a spot in the American League Wild Card Game.
This is different than that run in 2013. On Monday night, the Indians picked up a 7-4 win over the Tigers, completing a long-awaited return to the top of the AL Central. Cleveland has its first division title since 2007, meaning it gets to avoid the one-and-done risk that comes with a Wild Card appearance.
"I've been through this part. I haven't been through what comes next," Kipnis said in the middle of the Tribe's clinching party at Comerica Park. "You know what? In 2013, we had the Wild Card Game. I don't want to say we were just happy to be there, but it was a first for a lot of guys on this team.
"This year, we're not just happy to be there. We're looking to make some noise. I know these guys are excited about what's to come."
Exactly what is to come will be sorted out in the waning days of the regular season.
All the AL Central-champion Indians know right now is that they will begin with a best-of-five AL Division Series. Cleveland (91-65) is currently a half-game back of the Rangers (92-65), who would open at home against the Tribe if the postseason started today. The Indians are one game back of the Red Sox (92-64), who currently project to open the ALDS against the winner of the Wild Card Game (Toronto or Baltimore at the moment).
The No. 1 seed takes on the winner of the Wild Card Game, while the Nos. 2-3 seeds in the AL match up against one another. The Red Sox and Rangers each own the tiebreaker in the event of a tie with Cleveland for either club. If Texas and Boston match up in the first round, the Red Sox would get home-field advantage due to the tiebreaker rules.
Earning home field for the first round could be key for Cleveland, which went an AL-best 53-28 with 11 walk-off wins at Progressive Field this season. Of their six remaining regular-season games, the Indians will have three more on the road against Detroit, followed by a three-game road series against the Royals. Cleveland has gone 14-2 against the Tigers this year and 11-5 against Kansas City.
"We were able to clinch the division," said Mike Napoli, who is headed to his eighth postseason and has a World Series ring with Boston in 2013. "When you get [to the playoffs], anything can happen. There are guys who will go out there and put it on the line. I can go out there and feel confident that when they do that, we all have their backs and we'll be able to come together as a group and stick it out."
Regardless of which seed is secured by Cleveland, the ALDS round will begin with games on Oct. 6-7 at the site of the team with home-field advantage. Game 3 and Game 4, if necessary, would take place on Oct. 9-10. Should the series go to a decisive Game 5, the teams would return to the home-field city. All ALDS games will be aired on TBS.
Here is a quick glance at Cleveland's potential first-round opponents:
92-64 (+192 run differential)
Led by David Ortiz and Mookie Betts, who are both worthy of MVP votes, Boston features the best offense in the AL this season. In his final season in the Majors, Ortiz is hitting .321 with 37 home runs, 124 RBIs and a 167 wRC+, while Betts is batting .321 with 31 homers, 109 RBIs and a 137 wRC+. Boston also had a formidable one-two punch atop the rotation in Rick Porcello (22-4, 3.11 ERA) and David Price (17-8, 3.91 ERA). The Red Sox have gone 4-2 against the Indians this season. Indians manager Terry Francona managed the Red Sox from 2004-11, winning two World Series with the team.
92-65 (+6 run differential)
Texas won the AL West with a great home record (50-26) and solid showing in its division (47-29), while going 45-36 against the rest of baseball. The rotation has an ace in Cole Hamels (15-5, 3.30 ERA), but is thin behind the left-hander. Veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre has hit .298 with 32 homers, 101 RBIs and (entering Monday) a 131 wRC+ to lead an offense that ranks third in the AL with 743 runs scored. At this year's non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Rangers acquired All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who first vetoed a trade that would have sent him to Cleveland. Texas is 5-2 against the Tribe this year.
86-70 (+94 run differential)
The Indians have gone 4-3 against Toronto, which engaged in a 19-inning marathon with Cleveland back on July 1. The Blue Jays feature a dynamic offense that is led by reigning MVP Josh Donaldson, who is batting .284 with 36 homers, 96 RBIs, 121 runs and (entering Monday) a 155 wRC+. Slugger Edwin Encarnacion (42 homers) also poses a threat for opposing pitchers. The rotation is anchored by J.A. Happ (20-4, 3.20 ERA) and Aaron Sanchez (13-2, 3.12 ERA). Toronto ranks tied for third in the AL with 743 runs scored.
85-71 (+22 run differential)
The Orioles live and die by the long ball, having launched an MLB-leading 245 to date. Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop and Pedro Álvarez have combined for 193 of those shots. Baltimore thrives at home, where it went 50-31 this year. Chris Tillman (16-6, 3.84 ERA) leads the rotation, while closer Zach Britton (0.56 ERA and 46 saves) anchors the bullpen. The Orioles have gone 5-1 this season against the Indians.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.