Sunday night the Indians were riding as high as they'd been all season. Having already taken the first two games of a series against first-place Kansas City, they were on the verge of completing the sweep, which would have pulled them within 3.5 games of first place, and within 3 games of the second Wild Card spot. Cody Allen gave up a home run in the 9th inning, but the Tribe pulled back ahead in the 10th. Rain then game in and the game was suspended before it could be completed. The Indians returned home to Cleveland, and promptly got hammered in their series opener against Detroit, and went on to lose three of four.
The Tribe is now 6 games out of first place and 5 games out of the second Wild Card spot, and there are only three and a half weeks left in the season. Are their playoff chances dead?
I say, "No, their chances are not dead."
On September 22 Sunday's suspended game will pick up where it left off, with the Indians holding a 2-run lead, three outs away from securing the victory. A team in their position will win the game ~90% of the time, so while it's not a win yet, it probably will be. If you were to add that game to the standings, the Indians would be 5 games back of first place and 4.5 games out of the Wild Card. That's not a huge difference, but every game in the standings means a lot this time of the year.
Other than a makeup game against the Angels, every game the Indians play the rest of the way comes against either a team with a losing record, or one of the two team's they are chasing in the AL Central. The Indians can make up most of their deficit to Detroit by sweeping the Tigers next weekend. They can make up most of their deficit to Kansas City by sweeping the Royals during the final week of the season. The Royals and Tigers still play one another six more times, so at least one of them is going to suffer some major losses.
The Indians proved it's possible to get hot in a major way at the end of the season. This year's team is only two games back of where last year's team was through 138 games, and last year's team finished with 92 wins. If the Tribe match last season's 19-5 finish, they'd end up at 90 wins, which stands a pretty good chance of being enough to grab the second Wild Card spot right now. (the Tigers, who currently hold that spot, are on pace for 89 wins)
With games against two of the teams they are chasing, and an easy (on paper) schedule the rest of the way, a strong finish like last year's is certainly possible, and could very well be enough.
I say, "Yes, their chances are dead."
Because the Tigers and Royals play one another six more times, there's almost no way both teams can lose enough games for the Indians to pass them. That means the AL Central title is out. Sure enough, FanGraphs' playoff odds have the Tribe's chance to win the division at 1%, which is basically a rounding error from zero. That means the Indians should root for one of those two teams to win all six of the games between them, which would go a long way toward helping the Tribe get back into second place.
Trouble is, catching one of those two teams doesn't mean the Indians will win the Wild Card, because Seattle, New York, and Toronto are all ahead of them in the Wild Card standings too. The Yankees and Blue Jays are both very close, but the Mariners are 4.5 ahead of the Tribe. It's one thing to have to make up 5 games or so on one team in the final three and a half weeks of the season, but it's quite another to have to make that many games up on two.
Finishing 19-5 is technically possible, but thinking it will happen two years in a row is like waiting for lightning to smite your enemies two nights in a row. Arithmetic says passing all the teams ahead of the Indians is possible, but probability says it's not going to happen.
Which is it?
I don't like when fans try to tell other fans how to be fans. Some criticize others for being optimistic, some criticize others for being pessimistic. The Indians can still make the playoffs, and there's nothing wrong with holding onto that hope until the postseason becomes an impossibility. The Indians are also very, very unlikely to make the playoffs, and there's nothing wrong with accepting that.
I'll be here on the final day of the regular season whether the Indians are still in contention or not. I love baseball and the Tribe is my team, I'd rather watch a non-contending Indians team than stop following the season. I will rage against the dying of the light that is being left with only lesser sports from November until spring training starts.
That said, I don't believe the Indians are going to make the playoffs this season. There aren't that many moves that should be made based on whether or not a team is contending, but to the extent that their are (unless the Tribe sweeps this weekend's series against the White Sox) I think Terry Francona should start managing with at least one eye on 2015 and beyond. Maybe rest Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw a bit more, skip Corey Kluber once or twice and top him off at 215-220 innings or so, instead of going beyond 230. Maybe play some of the young guys a little more.
It's been a fun year, but it seems the Indians will fall short.