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Cleveland Indians’ playoff hopes hinge on playing well against Tigers

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Barring a catastrophe, the Indians should cruise to an AL Central win if they can keep dominating the Tigers.

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

If the Cleveland Indians want to win the American League Central, they have to beat their American League Central opponents, particularly the second-place team. That seems like something not worth pointing out, but we are at the time of the season where the Indians only have to beat the second-place Detroit Tigers to win the division for the first time since 2007.

Because of how the schedule is laid out, the Indians (as well as almost every other team) are wrapping up their season exclusively against division rivals. As of Tuesday afternoon, they play the Chicago White Sox six more times, the Kansas City Royals six more times, and they play the Tigers seven more times. Here’s the exact breakdown:

  • Aug 13 - Aug 15: @ White Sox
  • Aug 16 - Aug 18: vs Tigers
  • Aug 20 - Aug 22: vs Royals
  • Aug 23 - Aug 25: vs White Sox
  • Aug 26 - Aug 29: @ Tigers
  • Aug 30 - Sept 2: @ Royals

The Indians currently lead the AL Central at 83-60 and the Tigers trail six games back at 77-66. No matter what happens in those 12 non-Tigers games, and no matter what the Tigers do in their own 12 non-Indians games, it all comes down to the two remaining Indians-Tigers series.

To further demonstrate the importance of the final seven games between the Indians and Tigers, let’s look at some scenarios.

Total nuclear fallout, but with a potential happy ending

Maybe the Indians know they only need to play well against the Tigers, or maybe losing is contagious and they all decide to go to a Browns game together. Either way, let’s pretend the Indians are absolutely awful against the White Sox and the Royals down the stretch. No mercy — they go 0-12.

Before accounting for either Tigers series, that puts the Tribe at 83-72. Now, what if the Tigers do the opposite? They don’t exactly have a strong remaining schedule outside of the Indians: six against the Twins, three against the Royals, and three against the Atlanta Braves. If the Tigers manage to go perfect that would put them at 89-66.

In this weird and highly improbable scenario, the Indians are still well in range to win the division by sweeping the Tigers for a clean win. Although, even with the Indians’ 11-1 record against the Tigers this season, going 18-1 against one team is a tall order, but the point is it’s still possible.

Some more realistic scenarios

Okay, so that probably will not happen. Unless the Indians follow Matt Schlichting’s lead and pitch Bryan Shaw — and only Bryan Shaw — every night from here on out, the offense would still probably do enough to win one or two games.

If both teams were to go .500 against every one except each other down the stretch, the Indians would end up at 89-66 with the Tigers at 83-72. That’s the opposite of the nuclear fallout scenario for you astute readers, because six is half of 12. Math! This would put the Tigers in a position to have to sweep the Indians over the seven games to win the division.

If just the Tigers play .500 ball, the Indians would need to go 7-5 to make the series irrelevant. But, because of how the schedule is laid out, with the Indians finishing the season against the Royals and the Tigers finishing against the Braves, we would be left with a nail-biting game 162 if both teams were this close in the end.

* * *

Bottom line: If the Indians are absolutely terrible in the last month of the season, it will not matter how good the Tigers are — the AL Central crown will come down to how these two play against each other. The Indians have much more control over how everything plays out than the Tigers, of course. With every Indians win, the pressure mounts on the Tigers. It means more games they have to win against a team they have only bested once this season. That is great news for the Tribe.

But even if the Indians do not end up needing to beat the Tigers to clinch the division, I can imagine no better cap to the regular season than seeing the Tribe eliminate the Tigers in the last week of September as they are fighting for a Wild Card spot.

I’m getting tingly just thinking about it.