KANSAS CITY, Mo. – No matter how many games the Indians win between now and the end of the regular season on Sunday, they’ll enter the postseason as an afterthought, a team simply filling out the bracket for the first round.
They entered Thursday’s game against Kansas City with 89 wins. AL East champion Boston has 107 wins and AL West champion Houston has 100. The two wild card teams, the Yankees and Oakland, were at 97 and 96 wins, respectively, before playing Thursday.
“Yeah, I think we’re under the radar because of our division,” said Mike Clevinger. “I think everyone looks at our division like, ‘Oh, they’re playing blah, blah, blah, whatever.’ But I go and watch these same teams in our division go beat those teams at the top of their divisions. … So it’s not easy what we’re doing here in this division, even if the competition isn’t as stiff as elsewhere. I think that’s why we’re under the radar. I like it that way.”
The Indians have been a work in progress all year. They took over first place in the AL Central on April 21 when Clevinger beat Baltimore and have been there ever since. That kind of security has allowed them to concentrate on one goal – having their best team sound and available at the end of the regular season.
Trevor Bauer and Andrew Miller needed time to get healthy. Cody Allen needed time to get his mechanics back together. Josh Donaldson, acquired on Aug. 31, needed time to get healthy and his game in order.
Not everything is perfect. Jose Ramirez is in a miserable slump. Yonder Alonso is starting to emerge from his own slump. There are still questions in the bullpen and they have second baseman Jason Kipnis playing center field. Still, as GM Mike Chernoff said recently, the Indians seem to be on an “upward trajectory” for the postseason.
“We had moving parts,” said Clevinger. “I think people are really starting to see and understand their roles vs. assuming what they are. And once you kind of put your face to what your role is going to be, either you’re going to accept it or you’re going to be the guy that hurts the team. You know what I mean? There’s a lot of acceptance going on.”
The Indians will play Houston in the best-of-five ALDS starting on Oct. 5 at Minute Maid Park. Manager Terry Francona indicated Wednesday that Clevinger could start Game 3 on Oct. 8 at Progressive Field after Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco start the first two games in Houston.
But the rotation plans are far from settled. Clevinger and Trevor Bauer could be available in the bullpen in Texas with one of them starting Game 3 and the other Game 4, if it’s needed.
Francona preferred to wait until the regular season ends before announcing his postseason plans. But when asked about having Clevinger and Bauer available in the pen early in the series, he said, “The idea is to maximize your roster.”
Last season the Indians moved Clevinger to the bullpen in late September. He did not pitch well in the ALDS against the Yankees. He seems more at peace this season no matter how he’s used.
“It feels a lot more comfortable than last year,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. It just feels a lot more comfortable whether it’s me, Cookie (Carrasco), T.B. (Bauer), whoever is starting or going to the bullpen.
“It doesn’t feel such a weird, ‘Who’s going to be a starter now? Who’s going to the bullpen now? It feels more or a collective, like, ‘Hey, we need a piece (arm) out there for a righty.’ … And I feel just as much confidence in having either one of us start. It’s a good dynamic right now.'”
Clevinger (12-8, 3.07), who will make his final regular-season start on Friday, likes the idea of facing the Astros, the defending World Series champion, in the first round.
“I like it,” he said. “It’s a lot of, I don’t know, unfinished business I feel like we have with them anyways from the season. I think they’re really comfortable facing us and I like that. I feel like they don’t think this is going to be too much of a challenge for them and I think that’s going to benefit us.”
Houston won four of the seven games against the Indians during the regular season.