CLEVELAND -- On one side of the clubhouse, Josh Donaldson walked up to Edwin Encarnacion and the sluggers shared a drink and laughed amid the celebration. Across the room, Andrew Miller puffed on a cigar, staying on the edge of the party.This moment was one for them to savor. With
CLEVELAND -- On one side of the clubhouse, Josh Donaldson walked up to Edwin Encarnacion and the sluggers shared a drink and laughed amid the celebration. Across the room, Andrew Miller puffed on a cigar, staying on the edge of the party.
This moment was one for them to savor. With a 15-0 rout of the Tigers on Saturday, the Indians clinched their third consecutive American League Central crown. There is also this dose of reality: Donaldson has only appeared in three games total for Cleveland this season and Miller has worked just three times since coming off the disabled list.
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There is still plenty for the Indians to sort through in the two-plus weeks left in the regular season.
"We're making progress towards where we want to be," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations. "There's still a lot of work to be done over the next two weeks, but I feel like we're heading in the right direction and could be in a good spot by the end of the month."
Here is what the Indians know: They will begin the AL Division Series on Oct. 5 and figure to do so on the road. With the Red Sox running away with the AL East, Cleveland's eyes will be on the Yankees, Astros and A's. Oakland is not only chasing New York for the AL's top Wild Card, but is within striking distance of Houston for the AL West title.
The Indians project to face the AL West champ, giving the Tribe ample time to begin doing its homework on both the A's and Astros. Cleveland outscored Oakland, 31-29, in six games this year, but posted a 2-4 record. The Indians have also dropped four of seven games to Houston, which has a plus-16 run differential over the Tribe this season.
Cleveland's first-round opponent might not be determined until the waning days of the season, but the Indians are happy to have their own clinch complete.
"I know, personally, I kind of wanted to get it over with," pitcher Mike Clevinger said. "We can actually celebrate and enjoy it for this short time period. And then we still have some games to get it together and prepare for what's going to be our toughest task -- that's going to obviously be the playoffs. We still have a lot of molding and acclimating we have to do to get there."
The potential benefit to clinching now is it affords the Indians time to work through a handful of ongoing issues leading up to the postseason.
• Donaldson, who was acquired from the Blue Jays on Aug. 31, is coming off a left calf injury and is still building up his endurance. The third baseman has played every other day since coming off the DL on Tuesday and might begin appearing in back-to-back games next week.
• Miller has had three stints on the DL this season due to left hamstring, right knee and left shoulder issues. The lefty has looked better in his most recent outings, but the Indians have not used him in back-to-back games since May. The hope is that Miller will be primed for unrestricted use by October.
• To accommodate the arrival of Donaldson, who took over third-base duties, AL MVP candidate Jose Ramirez shifted over to second. That pushed Jason Kipnis to center field. Over the next two weeks, they will continue to get used to the position changes.
• Trevor Bauer remains on the DL due to a stress fracture in his right fibula. The right-hander logged 40 pitches in a mound session prior to Saturday's game and then partied with teammates after the clinching win. Cleveland is still working out whether Bauer will return as a starter or multi-inning reliever.
"We have time to get our house in order," manager Terry Francona said. "When you have question marks or unknowns, sometimes the answer's going to be, 'No.' So, you'd like to have the least amount of that as possible, because you're playing pretty good teams [in the postseason]. You've got your hands full."
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 Facebook.