Cleveland is back in October baseball and that’s a lot of fun.
For all their many flaws, for all the frustrating decisions and trades, the weird roster moves and questionable decisions by players across this shortened season, they’re in and chasing that big piece of metal. That is something to be celebrated.
October baseball is typically weird and different and so unlike anything you see in the regular season, and despite this oddity all year, they upped the ante anyway. Bubbles, brackets, three-game series, it’s going to be strange, man.
And as Cleveland has proven just this week — but even throughout the year — it’s going to be a damn heart attack.
They’re a team with near-unrivaled power, built to brutalize at the plate in a number of ways. They might have a batting champion, they might have an MVP before the year is out, and yet they scored all of 13 runs en route to a sweep. This is what good pitching does to a team that averages over five runs a game.
Problem is, in case you weren’t paying attention, that offense is just absolutely dreadful. Basically, after you get past Franmil Reyes, pitchers kind of fall into cruise control. The only reason Cleveland isn’t in last place in the American League in wRC+ is that the Rangers apparently tried a tactic of “non-offense” to win games. It’s very zen. This is not a recipe for blowout victories. In fact, Cleveland has only scored five or more runs 24 times so far this year. They’ve also only allowed five or more runs 14 times, so it’s obvious run prevention is the name of the game. That makes for tense games. Tightly played ones where a single mistake can doom one or the other team. That makes for a hell of a time for a neutral fan, and a coronary for whoever has a rooting interest.
Offensively, Cleveland is a major outlier for playoff teams. They’re the first team since 2014 to post an OPS under .700 and make the postseason. That year it happened with four teams, so it doesn’t seem that impressive, but that was also a year of incredibly suppressed offense if you’ll remember. The major league average OPS was just .700, the lowest mark since 1992, and the ninth-lowest since they lowered the mound. This year the league OPS is .739, and Cleveland clocks in a .687. So there you have it, numerical evidence that they are bad at hitting not only in a vacuum but compared to their peers.
The opposite is true of their pitching. The difference between their AL-best 3.19 team ERA and the second-place Twins is nearly the same as between the Twins and fifth place Oakland. It’s even starker by strikeout rate — the difference between them (28.5%) and the Twins (25.3%) is the same as Minnesota and the 11th ranked Red Sox. They’re killers on the mound; hits just don’t happen. But that’s the problem. Regardless of the situation, hits just aren’t happening. Especially not when things tighten up, bullpens are even more prevalent, and each pitch has the pressure of the sun. In this way — a total suppression of offense — Cleveland is basically Rob Mandred’s worst nightmare. Of course, they’re going to hideously grind their way to a title.
One would hope that the last couple of years have trained the fandom that games are bound to be close, that the offense is bound to endanger that big, pulsing vein in your forehead. It’s just something that’s hard to get used to though. They’ve demonstrated a penchant lately of heart-attack wins too, which doesn’t help with the stress levels, even if the endorphin release is a nice capstone to a teeth grinder of a night.
This is fun though, right? I mean, do we really want them to just blast their way through the playoffs, not even giving the other team a chance? (The answer is yes, of course.)
It’s been a really fun stretch of baseball the last few years, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. If they could just stack together say, 13 wins in October, and make it look like batting practice, that would be fun. But that’s not going to happen. It’s probably smart to just embrace the stress. They’re not going to get shelled out of a series. If they win it will be the most satisfying feeling in the world. If they do lose they’re going to do it in tight, heart-breaking fashion.
That’s probably not comforting, huh?