By Dennis Manoloff, The Plain Dealer | Posted October 08, 2018 at 06:30 AM
Astros 3B Alex Bregman. David J. Phillip/AP
The Cleveland Indians are in trouble. Deep trouble. They trail the Houston Astros, 2-0, in an American League Division Series. Game 3 is Monday afternoon in Cleveland.
Here are “5 Things I Think” for Game 3:
1. Singular focus
Skinny: The defending World Series champion Astros have pitched, homered, bat-flipped, pointed and strutted their way to within one victory of a sweep. They are feeling great about themselves — and who can blame them? Regardless of what Houston players and coaches say publicly, they almost certainly are mentally preparing for the Red Sox or Yankees in the ALCS. They are on a mission to get back to the World Series and win again. Meanwhile, the Indians have appeared tight and largely helpless for 18 innings, an AL Central paper tiger. The franchise postseason-game losing streak is five, which is not good for anybody’s legacy. The beauty of a best-of-five series, though, is that one victory for the trailing team can work wonders. And, as Yogi might have opined, the Indians can’t win three before they win one. If the Yankees were able to do it against the Tribe last year….
2. Comforts of home, road
Skinny: During the regular season, the Indians were seven games better at Progressive Field than on the road. Unfortunately for them, their 2018 ALDS opponent was 11 games better on the road than at home. Yes, it’s true: The Astros were 46-35 at Minute Maid Park, 57-24 on the road. But just because the Astros don’t get rattled on the road doesn’t mean the Indians can’t be confident and energized in their house. Will Indians fans adjust to a weekday afternoon start and make ample noise, even if their team is behind in the game? More importantly: Will Tribe fans decline to sell their tickets to Astros fans?
3. Offensive offense
Skinny: Astros pitching has overwhelmed Tribe bats in Games 1-2. The Indians are a combined 6-for-60 (.100) with four walks, 24 strikeouts and three runs. One of the runs scored on a wild pitch; another, on a grounder. No question that much of the credit goes to the electric stuff of Astros righty starters Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, but the Indians need to be better at grinding to stay in at-bats or shortening swings to make contact by any means necessary. The Indians can remain hyper-aggressive and continue to tip their helmets to the opposition’s pitchers for a job well done (and go on an extended vacation after Monday), or, they can figure out some way to be pesky and/or annoying — not unlike that piece of corn that gets stuck between the teeth. The goal: Repeatedly give John Adams something to drum about, then see what happens.
4. The super-sized donut
Skinny: The Indians are cooked if their Nos. 3-4-5 batters don’t flip proverbial switches. Fan favorite 2B Jose “Jose, Jose, Jose” Ramirez, one year removed from a brutal ALDS, is 0-for-7 with one walk and one RBI grounder; DH Edwin Encarnacion is 1-for-7 with one single and one walk; and 3B Josh Donaldson is 0-for-8 with three strikeouts. Houston’s Nos. 3-4-5 of 3B Alex Bregman, 1B Yuli Gurriel and LF Marwin Gonzalez have combined for nine hits, five RBI, four runs and three walks. Gonzalez, a career .264 batter, has one fewer hit than the Indians.
5. Keuchel vs. Clevinger
Skinny: The Game 3 pitching matchup is Astros LHP Dallas Keuchel vs. Indians RHP Mike Clevinger. Keuchel is a former AL Cy Young Award winner (2015) and owns good career numbers against the Indians. He is comfortable at Progressive Field. Clevinger makes his first postseason start, and the Astros roughed him up this season (combined 11 2/3 innings, eight earned runs). The Astros appear to have the advantage, but the Indians can’t afford to think as such. Clevinger, as long as he follows the lead of catcher Yan Gomes, has the stuff and moxie to succeed on the big stage. Keuchel can paint with the best of them but doesn’t overpower, which might be what Indians hitters need after flailing at the pellets of Verlander and Cole.