The Indians left Progressive Field for the final time of the 2019 regular season on Sunday tied with the Rays for the second American League Wild Card spot. After Monday’s off-day, the club will finish out its campaign with three games against both the White Sox and Nationals.
With a week remaining and the standings as close as they are, it’s too early to assume the Indians will earn a spot in the playoffs, let alone predict that they will win the Wild Card Game, should they get there. But MLB.com decided to have some fun this month, projecting how an American League Division Series roster would shake out. Let’s take a look at the fourth edition of a potential roster.
No surprises here. The Tribe has relied heavily on Pérez all season long. Despite a rough month at the plate in August, hitting .139 with a .503 OPS, the Indians couldn’t praise his defensive impact on the team more. Pérez had a career homer total of 21 entering 2019, and has already hit 23 this season. Although Plawecki doesn’t quite have the arm strength that Pérez has behind the plate, he’s commanded one of the better starting staffs in the league just as well as Pérez.
With the loss of Jason Kipnis (fractured hamate bone), the Indians will likely turn to Mike Freeman to handle the starting second base duties. The Tribe would also rely on outfielder Jake Bauers to back up Santana at first.
What changed? Although the Indians suffered a big blow when Kipnis’ MRI revealed a fracture last Monday, the club received great news about Ramírez just days later. The third baseman flew through his rehab after undergoing surgery on his fractured hamate bone on Aug. 26, allowing him to be activated off the injured list for the club’s final six games of the regular season. He’ll then be able to partake in any postseason games with his team, shifting Chang into a utility role. The Indians will have an option in carrying Ryan Flaherty, as well, as they’ve used the eight-year veteran more at second base than the rookie, who has yet to make a big league appearance at second.
The starting outfielders would likely be Puig in right and Mercado in center. If a left-hander is on the mound, expect Luplow to get the start in left and Bauers or Allen -- whoever is hotter at the time -- will get the nod against a right-handed hurler.
Designated hitter (1): Franmil Reyes
He may have been an outfielder in the National League to keep his bat in the lineup, but since Reyes was traded to the Indians on July 31, the club has been very clear it wants to limit his exposure in the field as much as possible. The 6-foot-5 power hitter played seven innings in right for the Tribe this season, spending the rest of the 42 games as the DH. He could be used in right in an emergency scenario, but unless the Indians advance all the way to the World Series and they needed his bat in an NL park, it doesn’t seem likely he’d do anything other than DH in the AL Division and Championship Series.
Could the Indians rely on three starters? Maybe. With little hope that Corey Kluber (strained left oblique) can be ready to go in the next month, the Indians will have a challenging decision on who to pitch after Bieber and Clevinger. The Tribe doesn't know how young pitchers like Zach Plesac and Civale would handle the brightest of all spotlights. At this point, it seems like the Indians' best option would be plugging Civale in as their No. 3 starter, as the 24-year-old has held opponents to two or fewer earned runs in each of his first nine starts.
What changed? Last week’s projection had the Tribe operating with four starters, including Plesac. But the recent comments made by president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti made it seem as though the team was contemplating shifting Plesac out of a starting role: “We still expect Zach to pitch for us and pitch in a meaningful role. Exactly whether or not that will be as a starter or when he’ll start we’ll have to work through.”
Plutko and Plesac can pick up some innings if a starter has an early departure, and Carrasco can also eat up two frames if needed. Hand will get tested over the final week of the season to see if he can still handle his role as their closer, while Perez will be used mostly against left-handed hitters. Goody, Clippard and Wittgren have been the most reliable options out of the bullpen for the Tribe this season.
What changed? Plesac was shifted back into the bullpen after the Indians’ most recent concerns about the rookie’s workload. In that case, the team may not need to carry both Plesac and Plutko. What else could change? If the Tribe sees a little bit more of James Karinchak (and like what they see), they could petition to get the hard-throwing reliever to replace someone on the injured list for the ALDS. But the team will definitely need to watch a few more outings to determine how the 24-year-old's stuff plays at the big league level.