I tend to spend the last three weeks of the season either worrying about setting up a postseason rotation, getting excited about the young kids who will be up next year, or scoreboard watching with my fingers crossed. Last year was a whole lot of door #3 and this year is shaping up to be the same. But if we are going to scoreboard watch, we should do it intelligently, with an eye towards what needs to happen for the Indians to clear their path to the postseason.
The Indians are currently 4 games back of Kansas City and 3.5 back of Detroit in the Central. In the Wild Card race, Oakland is still in the driver's seat, with Detroit just behind them, Seattle a half game out, and Cleveland, Toronto, and New York all still in range, but in need of a very strong finish.
I took a look at how many games each team has left and their current record, and figured out how many Indians wins+other team losses it would take for the Tribe to finish ahead of each of these teams, eventually landing on four scenarios that can lead the team to the postseason.
Why Indians wins+other team losses? Well, the Indians need to pick up 3.5 games to catch Detroit. They can do this by going 17-0 while Detroit goes 13-3 (this would be impressive, as it would require the Indians to sweep the Tigers and the Tigers to not lose another game), or by the Tribe going 4-13 while the Tigers go 0-16. In either case, you will note, the Indians wins and Tiger losses total 20. Any combination that equals that will work - 10-7 Tribe, 6-10 Tigers; 8-9 Indians, 4-12 Tigers. Whatever it takes.
The numbers below are to get into a tie with each team - to pass the team, the number needs to be one more.
AL Central Contenders
To tie KC, the Indians wins and Royals losses need to total 21. There is a nice little built in advantage here, though: if the Indians can get three outs on September 22 to finish the suspended game, they'll cut that number down by two.
To tie Detroit, as we said, the number is 20. This means that to end up in a tie (or better) for the division, the Indians need both of those things to happen - Tribe wins+Tiger losses = 20 or more; Tribe wins+Royal losses = 22 or more.
Wild Card Contenders
To tie Oakland, the "magic number" is 21. For Seattle, it is 20. For Toronto and New York, it is 17. The 20 for Detroit also factors in here.
To at least tie for a Wild Card spot, the Indians need to reach at least four of those five numbers - for example, if they go undefeated, they would reach their 17 for Toronto and New York, and if Detroit and Seattle each lost three games, those three teams would end up tied for the second Wild Card spot.
The real question is, what does each team need to do to make that happen. First of all, let's start by assuming the Indians win every series the rest of the way, but lose a game in each, going 12-5 down the stretch. This would be impressive ball, but nothing too hard to imagine. They'd take two from Detroit, three from Houston, two from Minnesota, three (including the suspended game) from Kansas City, and two from Tampa.
For that to happen and the Indians to tie the Central, they would need the Royals to go 8-9 or worse and the Tigers to go 8-8.
For the Royals, outside of their four with the Tribe (which we already said they would go 1-3 during) they would go 7-6 the rest of the way, including three with Boston, seven with Chicago, and three with Detroit. Assuming the Red Sox can take one of the three and the White Sox can take three of the seven, we'd need them to win only one of the three against the Tigers.
The Tigers, in the meantime, would have gone 1-2 with Cleveland and 2-1 with KC, leaving them to go 5-5 in their other 10 games - seven against the Twins and three against the White Sox. If the Twins can somehow take three and the Sox can take two, that would do it.
Of course, the Indians can make this easier on themselves by sweeping KC and Detroit. Even if they "gave back" those wins by losing an extra game to Tampa or Houston, they'd make it much easier for their Central foes to meet their loss "goals."
Assuming the same 12-5, the Indians need the A's to go 7-9 down the stretch. They have three in Seattle, seven against the Rangers and three against the Phillies, along with three against the Angels. The problem is, two of those teams are terrible and the Angels will have clinched before that series. Of course Oakland is scuffling, so losing three of four in Texas and getting swept by LA are not out of the question. That leaves Seattle, Philly and the Rangers series in Oakland for the A's to give away three more games. Definitely possible. Lose one to the Phils, one at home to Texas, and one in the series in Seattle.
Seattle, in the meantime, might be in trouble. After the three with Oakland, they have four at the Angels, three in Houston against an Astros team that just gave them trouble, four in Toronto and then three more with LA. And they could have a winning record (9-8) and still find themselves tied with a 12-5 Cleveland club. Even assuming they take the one noted above against Oakland, going 7-7 (2-5 vs. LA, 5-2 vs. the other two?) seems perfectly plausible.
Now, we likely just assumed Toronto to take 3 of 4 from Seattle, but they don't have an easy schedule either, and they could go 12-5, like the Tribe, and still end up in a tie. Outside that Seattle series, they could take two of three from Tampa, two of three from Baltimore, three of four from New York, and two of three from Baltimore again, and still only keep pace.
The Yankees, already a game back, could go 13-5 down the stretch and only tie the 12-5 Tribe. We just had them losing three of four to Toronto, which means they could go 12-2 vs. Baltimore (eight games), Tampa (three games) and Boston (three games) and still not be a problem.
So, there you have it. The full scenario above actually describes a seven way tie atop the AL Central and for both Wild Card spots. That is unlikely to happen, but it gives you a sense of what it would take for the Indians to make the postseason.
Get down to Progressive Field or watch the Tribe on TV and hope things work out.
See you in October!