Now that the playoffs are assured for the Cleveland Indians, it doesn’t feel as much like playing with fate to talk about what could be once October dawns. Any fan or baseball scribe has countless thoughts about what can or will be in the postseason. But when you have any sort of rooting interest, whether from decades of fruitless hopes or just wanting to see another monkey shaken off a back, you don’t want to jinx the chance. I for one don’t feel so bad about that now. The Indians have had a rough couple of weeks on the injury and luck front, but they have what it takes to make their own luck in October. Case in point, Josh Tomlin. Really.
In the middle of August, if you told a Tribe fan that Josh Tomlin was going to play a major role in the postseason rotation, their head would pop. Even when he was somehow the team stopper, there was little expectation that he’d be a fixture. Not with Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar ahead of him. That changed. While it’s not ideal for a soft-tossing, occasionally home run prone pitcher to start for you against other playoff teams, maybe it won’t be so bad.
First, Tomlin really isn’t all that bad the first couple times through the order. He gets by on guile and sleight of hand. This can work on even the most talented hitter, for a little while. Come that third time seeing the pitcher though, look out. Tomlin is a perfect illustration of that. The first two times through the order this year, opponents possess a .778 and .750 respectively. Most times we saw him this year it started to fall apart after about 80 or 85 pitches. In October that might only get you to the fifth or sixth inning, but that’s all the Indians need. He’s going to be starting opposite the third best pitcher the other team has, which in the first round’s case is going to be Martin Perez in the Rangers case and either Drew Pomeranz or Stephen Wright in the Red Sox case. Feel how you want about those two, but Tomlin can likely dance his way through those two lineups with three or so runs allowed, and hand the ball to a lockdown bullpen. We’re going to see a lot of Terry Francona walking to the mound, especially when it’s Tomlin.
Another thing about Tomlin, while he’s more than matched his career high in innings this year, he’s going to get a break. I think that faltering he had in August where he had an 11.48 ERA and a 1.048 OPS allowed had to do with his getting tired. Getting a break like he did in September, and even now since they’ve clinched, he’s going to be okay. With him well rested and baffling hitters for a bit, then handing the ball to a bullpen that is also going to have Danny Salazar in it, suddenly the opponent is going from 88 to 97, all but impossible to handle. What if he and Salazar just become a chimera starter? One goes four, one goes three, give the ball to Miller and go home. Baseball is just that easy.
While worrying about some things with the Indians, I came across a myth-killing primer that appeared on Grantland back in 2014. One myth it made to murder was that pitching and defense are all it takes to win. Which is good, since the Indians lost two of their best pitchers. Everyone expected the Indians to ride that dominant starting pitching into the playoffs, which they have, it’s just all fell apart.
But while it would have been nice to have, as I wrote last week the Indians do so much so well, it’s not a real problem anymore. I"m not even too worried if the power fades for a time from Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana. The Indians have such a glut of athletes on the roster, just being able to get on base means they can steal bases and make singles into runs. High contact rates puts pressure on defenses, speed stops double plays, and action on the basepaths messes with pitchers. It’s the mental meta-game of baseball, and the Indians can dominate others in that respect. With the late game combination of Brandon Guyer and Coco Crisp, a hit-by-pitch can turn into a run right quick.
By the way, nobody is talking about having someone who is literally the best at something on the team. The Indians have a lot of guys who are good at a lot of things, but only one man, Brandon Guyer, is literally the best at getting hit by pitches. Nobody can say this isn’t valuable. Especially in the postseason, when everything is magnified. I bet he gets hit by a Stephen Wright knuckleball at some point and it leads to a game-changing run.
Things being magnified, as mentioned earlier, really just means that there’s less to talk about since there are fewer games, so we have to talk about the same things over and over. But it also means that the little things in baseball can break a team. We saw it last year when the Royals’ Eric Hosmer scored a key run in the clinching game because neither David Wright or Lucas Duda could properly execute on defense. Maybe It’s just because I’ve seen them work so well together, but the Tribe defense, especially the infield defense where those little things can become so big, is perfectly suited for the big time. The outfield, maybe not so much, they all grade kind of badly, but at least they can’t blow it too much for the whole team. One would hope anyway.
The postseason can be wonderful and terrible at the same time, rife with shining moments and great miseries. I suppose the point of most of this article is that the Indians can weather those storms that have capsized other teams. They’ve still got enough pitching, they’ve got bats, Tomlin should be fine for a bit of time each game, and Danny Salazar isn’t going to be a nonfactor. I just don’t think the Indians are going to crack under whatever artificial pressure, whether because of their amazing manager, their many methods of winning, or just because they’re good. If you're a fan, you should be worried because it can disappear so quickly. But the Indians have the tools to hang around for quite a while.