Is Cleveland a Playoff Team?

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

INDIANS LEAD AL CENTRAL, ARE THEY REALLY A PLAYOFF TEAM?

Our look at Wins Minus Home Games Played yesterday suggested that the Cleveland Indians were the class of the American League Central. They had posted a decent won-lost record despite playing more road games than home games. And, nobody else in their division had really measured up in that regard.

Your newspaper standings show the Indians in first place this morning, leading Detroit in a tight race. The Chicago White Sox have a chance to be in the mix very soon as well. And, Minnesota is playing so well the past month that you can't officially count them out either. Should the Indians fall back to earth, then an impressive record could ultimately win this division. Minnesota has plenty of time to surge back to the .500 mark and be in the mix.

We have to admit that we're skeptical about Cleveland truly being in the playoff discussion right now. Yes, they're leading a division...and SOMEBODY from that division will be in the playoffs. Is Cleveland really "playoff caliber?" We'll be looking for answers to that question tonight when the Indians host the New York Yankees in a nationally televised ESPN game.

Let's look at what Cleveland has done this year against playoff contenders from other divisions.

CLEVELAND VS. BEST IN AL EAST
1-3 vs. NY Yankees (pending Tuesday's late result)
4-2 vs. Boston
2-4 vs. Tampa Bay

That's a 7-9 record pending last night's game vs. the Yankees. That was finished after publication deadlines. You can pencil in the result mentally as we go along. Certainly no shame here. Considering the caliber of competition, that's at least "holding your own" against three teams who are World Championship contenders let alone contenders in their own division.

CLEVELAND VS. BEST IN THE AL WEST
0-4 vs. Texas
2-4 vs. LA Angels

Ouch, that's a much uglier 2-8. And, the four losses to Texas were all at home! That didn't happen too long ago. You probably remember when Texas enjoyed that road sweep a few weeks back. We now have a combined record of 9-17 vs. contenders from other American League divisions....which is obviously very poor. It's hard to make a case that you're a playoff caliber team when you're only 9-17 against other playoff caliber teams.

CLEVELAND VS. NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION LEADERS
0-3 vs. San Francisco

The Tribe would have faired better if we decided to include Arizona and Cincinnati as contenders. The D-backs and Reds technically are in the mix at the moment. But, a variety of indicators that we trust don't currently project them as playoff teams. The Giants right now do have the look of an NL contender, with a legitimate chance to repeat as World Champs if their frontline starters stay healthy. Cleveland could barely get their bats on the ball against those frontline starters a couple of weekends ago.

Add it up, and that's 9-20 against top competition from other divisions pending Tuesday's result against the Yanks. If you're "playoff caliber," then you should at least be near .500 against other playoff caliber teams. That's an elite testing ground. Holding your own means you belong there. Losing two-thirds of the time means you don't!

Other evidence that Cleveland isn't playoff caliber in terms of what the phrase usually means.

OFFENSE
11th in batting average
10th in on base percentage
8th in slugging percentage

In the key high profile hitting stats, the Indians are below average across the board. Somehow, they've turned that into above average run production over a short term sample. We've seen repeatedly that this team is easily overmatched by top quality pitching. Apparently they can beat up bad pitching when they see it (like everyone else), and they've been hitting in extremely good fortune this year to score what they have.

PITCHING
A mediocre rotation
No "slam the door" relief ace

Reliever Chris Perez has 20 saves this year, and a sound enough ERA of 2.30. Just remember that ace relievers often have eye-poppingly good earned run averages because they can go all out for just one inning at a time. Our problems with Perez is in the area of strikeouts. He has just 20 in 31.1 innings. That's not "slamming the door." That's hoping the ball gets hit to a defender. A K-Rate of 5.7 per nine innings is well below par for a closer.

Justin Masterson is having a very good year at the top of the rotation. No complaints here. His ERA is 2.85. Behind Masterson are a couple of guys who have been getting great run support (in Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin) with good but not great performances this year...then trouble in the four and five spots in the rotation.

Cleveland is just good enough to beat mediocrity. Masterson is good enough to beat quality. On the whole though, this just isn't a team you could be enthusiastic about in a playoff series were they able to win their division. Maybe they'll change our minds tonight on ESPN against the Yankees, and again this weekend in a four-game home set against a competitive Toronto squad that will take us to the All-Star Break. For now, we're still skeptical. And, we're still looking for ways to take advantage of the split we're seeing based on Cleveland's lack of success vs. quality, but fairly consistent success vs. weak opposition.

Masterson is on the mound tonight for the Tribe, against Phil Hughes of the Yankees. Hughes is returning from the 60-day Disabled List after being on the shelf with a shoulder ailment since the very early stages of this season. Our scouts and sources have been on the Hughes story very closely of late. We could easily have a big play in the TV game tonight based on what our sources are reporting. If Hughes is healthy and ready to go...we'll think about the Under in a matchup with Masterson. If Hughes is likely to be shaky, Masterson will make a lot of sense at an affordable price. And, EVERYONE playing the Yankees usually enjoys an affordable price!

Wednesday's day-night schedule let's us do split sessions for money management. Be sure you take care of business early so any daytime winnings can be re-invested in our top evening plays. JIM HURLEY has helped clients take advantage of the schedule several times this year already.

Day Games of Interest:
Arizona at Milwaukee
Tampa Bay at Minnesota
Detroit at LA Angels

Prime Time Possibilities:
NY Yankees at Cleveland
Toronto at Boston
Philadelphia at Florida
Cincinnati at St. Louis

Game day selections go up a few hours before first pitch right here at the website. We have great rates for the rest of the season that offer the most bang for your buck. If you have any questions about our service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back tomorrow to preview the huge Tampa Bay/New York Yankees series that begins Thursday Night in the Bronx. Friday we'll preview the Atlanta/Philadelphia weekend series in the National League that matches two of the biggest powers in the sport right now (more people would be paying attention to Atlanta if they weren't in the same division as Philly!). Saturday and Sunday we'll continue our summer football previews with scouting reports on the Pac 12 North (where Oregon and Stanford will once again be thinking about the national championship) and the Pac 12 South (where any of a handful of teams could ultimately win a division featuring USC, new member Utah, and the Arizona schools).

Make sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY happening in the world of sports!

22
Nov

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