Three Keys for the Indians Down the Stretch


Cleveland Indians Keys to the Division Crown

Following Thursday’s game against the Kansas City Royals, the Cleveland Indians have 16 regular-season games remaining. Therefore, it is officially the final part of the team’s season and the focus is going to be centered around playing winning baseball down the stretch.

Throughout the season, one consistent has been the Indians starting rotation. Cleveland has always had effective starting pitching over the last few seasons and this year is no different. Of course, the standout starting pitcher has been Shane Bieber. Other than Bieber, Zach Plesac, Triston McKenzie, Carlos Carrasco, and Aaron Civale have all contributed at a high level at varying times. At the end of play Thursday, the Indians starting rotation leads all of baseball with a 2.86 ERA over 258 innings.

Furthermore, the bullpen has been another consistent. After Thursday’s game, Indians relievers have combined for the third-best bullpen ERA in baseball (2.96). In addition, Cleveland’s bullpen corp has held opposing batters to a .221 batting average to date. That puts them sixth in baseball tied with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Now, the one up-and-down factor of the team this season has been the offense. Going into the season, it looked as though Cleveland’s lineup could be quite good. After all, it featured a lot of hitters that had high home run potential and sneaky good power. However, those expectations have only come into reality a handful of times this year. More often than not, the lineup has struggled and held the team back.

Following play on Thursday, the Indians offense has a cumulative batting line of .225/.318/.362 over 1,438 plate appearances. In that span, Cleveland’s position players have hit 43 home runs, recorded 170 RBI, and racked up 383 strikeouts.

With all of that being said, there are three keys for the Indians to follow down the stretch over the next 16 games. Those will all be outlined in-depth below.

1. Starting Pitching Effectiveness

Starting pitching is everything in the game of baseball. When a team doesn’t have an effective starting rotation, they usually struggle to win those important baseball games. For the Indians, the starting rotation needs to continue to be effective and in all likelihood, that will continue to be the case.

However, with the exception of the aforementioned Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie, Cleveland is going to need the middle-to-back end of the rotation to continue performing at a high level. For instance, Carlos Carrasco put up a 3.90 ERA over the month of August. So far through the month of September, the right-hander has a 1.38 ERA over two starts with 13 strikeouts.

That’s the type of performance that the Indians are going to need to continue to receive from the 33-year old. Additionally, the aforementioned Aaron Civale will need to continue performing well behind Carrasco in the three hole. During Thursday’s start, Civale went six innings while striking out seven. Although, he did give up four earned runs. If the Indians offense isn’t going to step up to the plate, then the Indians will need Civale to limit runs as much as possible down the stretch.

2. James Karinchak to Return to Form

When the season first started, 24-year old, right-hander James Karinchak was a standout story that seemingly came out of nowhere. During his first season in the big leagues, it has been a tale of two stories for him. On the year, Karinchak has a 2.70 ERA over 19 appearances with 39 strikeouts.

Things look much different when you break the season down into two parts. For example, during the months of July and August, he posted a 2.57 ERA over 18 innings while holding opponents to a .160 batting average. Fast forward to this month and while the sample size is only two games, Karinchak has a 9.00 ERA so far. Additionally, opponents are batting .375 against him.

For the Indians to have success down the stretch and put themselves in the best position possible to win the American League Central, they need Karinchak to bounce back. When he’s performing at his best, he gives Cleveland quite a duo with closer Brad Hand. Hand has had a stellar run himself as of late, but that 1-2 punch sure would be valuable for the Indians as the postseason crawls closer.

3. Take a More Disciplined Offensive Approach

As previously mentioned, the Indians lineup has been hot and cold all season long. Sure, sometimes a team like the Indians get unlucky and go up against a pitcher who is just dominating during a given day. Also, offensive slumps are a given for all thirty teams around baseball at some point. However, a prolonged slump like Cleveland’s offense has been in virtually all year isn’t part of a formula towards winning.

For instance, the Indians position players have combined for 35 runs so far this month which puts them 22nd in all of baseball. While that’s not entirely ineffective, they do have 61 strikeouts so far as a unit this month which ties them with three other teams – the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Francisco Giants.

Additionally, Indians hitters need to focus on working the counts into their favor more. Granted, it’s easier said than done, but even the numbers are proof of how this can create a winning lineup. For example, when the Indians position players are behind or tied in the count (0-1, 0-2, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2), the team is batting .198/.283/.321 with a .271 Batting Average On Balls In Play (BABIP) along with a Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) value of 62 which puts them in the bottom third in baseball. Through that sample, the team has a 30.5% strikeout percentage.

On the other hand, when the count is ahead for the Indians (2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1, 3-2), the Indians have a wRC+ value of 124 which is the third worst in baseball. Additionally, they are batting .225/.429/.345 in those situations with a .282 BABIP and a 19.7% strikeout percentage.

Therefore, while it can be a challenge to climb out of a count from behind, the Indians need to attempt to do that as much as they can. A big key that plays into it is plate discipline and trying to take a walk instead of a strikeout. Easier said than done, but a big key for the offense over the final 16 games of the regular season.

Final Thoughts

In the end, the Cleveland Indians have their work cut out for them in the American League Central. The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins are both focused on vying for the division crown. At the end of play Tuesday, the White Sox lead the division by one-game ahead of the Minnesota Twins. It’s baseball’s most exciting divisional race as the postseason nears.

If the Indians do indeed take home the division crown, it will be the fourth time in the last five years it has happened.

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