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Tribe Happenings: A wild wildcard finish is upon us

Tribe Happenings: A wild wildcard finish is upon us
September 22, 2013
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Wildcard scenarios

With just a week left in the season and still six teams in the wildcard mix, things are setting up to be quite crazy this week.

At the moment the Indians sit at 85-70 and own a half game lead on the Rangers for the second wildcard spot. The Rays lead the way with an 85-69 record, the Rangers are a half game out (84-70), the Yankees are 3.0 games out (82-73), the Orioles are 3.5 games out (81-73) and the Royals are 3.5 games out (81-73).

Here are the remaining schedules for the six wildcard contenders:

Indians (7): ASTROS (1), WHITE SOX (2), at Twins (4)
Rays (8): ORIOLES (2), at Yankees (3), at Blue Jays (3)
Rangers (8): at Royals (1), ASTROS (3), ANGELS (4)
Royals (8): RANGERS (1), at Mariners (3), at White Sox (4)
Orioles (8): at Rays (2), BLUE JAYS (3), RED SOX (3)
Yankees (7): GIANTS (1), RAYS (3), at Astros (3)

The Rays, Indians and Rangers appear to bet setting themselves apart from the pack this weekend, and if all three win on Sunday the race will probably be down to them the final seven days.  At this point, all the Indians know is as long as they continue to win and don’t lose, they at least guarantee themselves a tie for one of the wildcard spots with the Rays and/or Rangers.

No matter what though, in any scenario where there is a tie for a wildcard spot the tie breaker will occur on the field as Major League Baseball does not use any crazy formulas based on head-to-head, division record, strength of schedule or and BCS computers to settle who makes it. Any teams tied for the wildcard will play each other in a one-game playoff to earn the final wildcard spot for the right to play in the one-game wildcard playoff.

Since it looks possible that two teams could tie for the final wildcard spot or three teams could tie for both wildcard spots, here is a quick rundown of how the tiebreakers work in those scenarios:

Two-way ties

If for example the Rays finish with the top wildcard record and the Indians and Rangers tie for the second wildcard, then the Indians and Rangers would play in a one-game playoff on Monday September 30th in Cleveland (homefield is determined by head-to-head and Indians won the season series over the Rangers 5-1). The winner would then go on to Tampa to play in a one-game wildcard playoff on Tuesday October 1st.

The only exception to the need for a mandatory “play-in” game would be if two teams finish with the best wildcard records and both are tied. In this case, a tie is broken simply by head-to-head or other secondary tiebreaker measures. So, for example, if the Indians and Rays finish with identical 90-72 records and everyone else finishes 89-73 or worse, then the Rays and Indians are the two wildcard teams and homefield is determined by head-to-head (in this scenario, the Rays would host since they won the season series with the Indians 4-2).

Three-way ties

If three teams tie for the final wildcard spot, then the three teams will be designated as "A", "B" and "C" under a two-game elimination format. In Game 1, A would host B. The following day, in Game 2, the winner of Game 1 would host C. The winner of Game 2 advances to the postseason.

The designations for teams A, B and C is quite convoluted, but in a nutshell if one team has a better record against both of the other teams, and another team has a winning record against the final team, the first team shall get the first pick of their team designation (likely C), the second team gets the second pick (likely A), and the last team is assigned the remaining designation (likely B).

In a situation where there is a three way tie between three teams for both wildcard spots, a tiebreaker series eliminating one of the three teams would follow. Based on a group head to head record, Teams A, B and C would be created. Team B would travel to team A. The winner wins wild card one. The loser would go to team C. The winner of that game wins wild card two. After those two games, wild card teams one and two would play each other in the wild card round with the homefield going to the team with the better regular season head-to-head record.

There is also a chance that there could be a four-way tie for the final wildcard spot. If this happens then the four teams draw spots as teams A, B, C, and D. On the first day team B plays at team A and team D plays at team C. The next day the winners of these games play each other at the ballpark of either team A or B (depending on who won the game) and the winner earns the wildcard berth.

It is still a fuzzy playoff picture, but again, for the Indians the math is simply as they just need to keep beating the teams they should beat and maybe get some help along the way with the Rays and/or Rangers losing a few games.

Gomes has become a core player

The Indians made one of their best trades in quite some time last November when they traded Esmil Rogers to the Blue Jays in exchange for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes.

While at the time of the trade it was considered minor and more to add to the depth of the roster, Aviles carried most of the attention because of his major league experience and his possible consideration as a replacement at shortstop for Cabrera. But as this season has worn on Gomes has proven to be the big acquisition and really looks to be a core player for the Indians for the foreseeable future.

Gomes, 26, is enjoying his first extended experience in the big leagues as in 81 games he is hitting .297 with 10 homers, 34 RBI and .844 OPS. In addition to the productive showing with the bat he has also shown off his defensive skills as he has just three errors and three passed balls all season. He has also shut down the running games of opposing teams as he has thrown out 19 of 46 runners (41.3%).

The Indians initially picked up Gomes in the deal with the Blue Jays because they were attracted to the production and versatility he could provide from the right side of the plate. In his four year minor league career he was a .287 hitter with a healthy .828 OPS, and was considered very athletic with soft hands and a good arm behind the plate. They felt he was undervalued by the Blue Jays and that he had not yet reached his full potential as a catcher, and at the time he provided the Indians with a third catching option for 2013 and possibly a long term backup catching option that they did not have in the system at the time.

Gomes came right in and impressed in spring training. He even skipped the World Baseball Classic and chose not to play for his home country Brazil – the team he had just helped earn a berth a few months earlier – so that he could concentrate on making the opening day roster or at least make a sizable impression on the front office and coaching staff in the spring.

Gomes did that as he showcased his lightning quick catch and throw skills throughout spring training. When he got a chance to play he flat out hit as in 15 games he raked to the tune of a .407 batting average with a homer, 7 RBI and 1.170 OPS in 27 at bats.

Gomes lost out on an opening day roster spot because Marson was the incumbent backup catcher and set to make $1 million this season, but he didn’t last in the minors long as he was called up a week into the season when Marson came down with a concussion and shoulder injury.  Known as the first Brazilian player to make it to the major leagues, Gomes has since answered the call and remained with the team ever since.

What Gomes has done since then is stabilize himself as a core member of the roster for the next several years. Assuming he is done with the minors, the Indians control him for five more seasons beyond this season and he is likely to get a more prominent role with the team next year.

Anyone paying attention can see how his playing time has increased significantly in the second half of this season because of how much manager Terry Francona not only trusts his defense and the way he handles a pitching staff, but how potent his bat can be.

It is important to note that Carlos Santana is still viewed as the everyday catcher, but it is obvious to see that the torch is starting to be passed to Gomes and it is possible that at some point next season he will take over the position and be considered the Indians’ regular at the position.

The Indians have no plans to move Santana out from behind the plate, but Gomes’ breakout as a more reliable defensive catcher and his steady offense should at least allow the Indians to explore playing Santana a lot more next season at designated hitter and first base and have close to a 50-50 split in playing time at catcher between Santana and Gomes.

One caveat in all of this is no one should go completely all-in on Gomes as the catcher just yet.  It is just his first full season, and Francona has done a nice job of putting him in a position to have success by picking his spots when he plays him.  No one knows how he will respond to the pressure of handing the everyday catching duties five to six games a week. Especially when so many players have struggled in their sophomore season.

With that in mind, there is no reason at the moment for the Indians to make a permanent position change for Santana or even consider trading him. Santana’s bat is too valuable and for a team starving for offense it would make little sense to trade away one of the club’s best bat – if not their best offensive contributor.

Considering the rigors of catching and how Gomes is still somewhat of an unknown going into next year, it would be to the Indians benefit to carry two starting quality catchers on the roster. With Santana still at catcher the Indians can ease Gomes into everyday duties.  If he proves to be the real deal over the course of next season, then the Indians can hand the keys to the position to him as the team’s number one backstop. If he struggles, then they still have Santana at the position to take over and larger percentage of the playing time.

Right now, the Indians need bats and to have one emerge at the catching position and be a potential Gold Glove caliber defender to boot helps limit their needs going forward. If Gomes maintains his production and performance both offensively and defensively he could even be a guy who gets All Star someday.

The emergence of Gomes has had one of the biggest impacts on the team this season. The Indians have had several players have big breakout or comeback seasons, which is why they have had so much more success this season in the win-loss column.

But Gomes is the one that is the most important because he not only has had such a big effect on this season, but he has a big impact on the Indians long term outlook going forward.

Masterson could pitch this week

Right-hander Justin Masterson appears to be very close to a return to the mound for the Indians, which could be a huge boost to the pitching for the final week and possibly in the playoffs.

Masterson, 28, went down with a strained left oblique in his start against the Orioles on September 2nd and rested for a few weeks before starting a return to throw program recently. On Friday he threw a 33 pitch pen session and it reportedly went great, and all that stands between him returning is a sim-game which will happen on Monday or Tuesday. If he gets the all clear after that session, then he could make a start sometime over the final weekend of the season against the Twins.

With the off day on Monday the Indians adjusted their rotation slightly by sliding up Ubaldo Jimenez to Tuesday so he can pitch on normal rest and pitch two more times if needed before the end of the season. Danny Salazar has been pushed to Wednesday and it is this spot in the rotation that the Indians may be aligning Masterson’s return.

Masterson would likely be limited in his first start back, so the Indians will want to ease him back into things and definitely get him a start before any possible playoff run. Wednesday may be a little early to have Masterson come back and pitch in a piggyback situation, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Masterson and McAllister share their next start (Thursday) which would then keep Masterson in line for Game 1 of the American League Division Series provided the Indians make the playoffs and beat their wildcard opponent.

Postseason roster decisions

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but it is time to start thinking a little bit how the Indians postseason roster will be made up. The wildcard roster will obviously be much different since it is one game, but thinking ahead to a possible playoff series, there are some interesting decisions that loom. Here are some quick thoughts:

What is the four man rotation? Every team pretty much goes with a four man rotation in the playoffs now, and the Indians very likely would be no different. Right now the rotation would probably be Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, and Scott KazmirZach McAllister or Josh Tomlin would probably make the roster as a spot starter or long man option. As for Danny Salazar, I am not sure he makes the postseason roster since the Indians may be gun shy about him pitching in a new bullpen role he is unprepared for physically.

Drew Stubbs or Matt Carson? As tempting as it would be to add the hot hitting Carson, he is still a journeyman player and was in the minors all season for a reason. Stubbs has been with the team all year, and even though he has really struggled down the stretch with the bat, he is still has more power and is a superior runner and defender. He has to be on the roster even if he is just a late inning pinch runner or defensive replacement.

What about the final bench spot, does it go to Jason GiambiJason Kubel or Jose Ramirez? Ramirez adds a great dynamic to the roster with his speed and good contact ability at the plate, and Kubel has some left-handed pop. But, Giambi has been with the team all year, is the team’s leader, and Francona trusts him. Plus he has tons of postseason experience, so he should be on the roster.

If the Indians make the playoffs I will delve much deeper into the roster decisions next week, so in the meantime this is but an appetizer to think about some of the roster possibilities for the postseason.

Parting shots

Second baseman Jason Kipnis is once again having another hot and cold first and second half this season. Last year he hit .277 with 11 HR, 49 RBI and .764 before the All-Star break and then hit .233 with 3 HR, 27 RBI and .650 OPS after it. This year he hit .301 with 13 HR, 57 RBI and .897 OPS before the All Star break and has hit .235 with 4 HR, 23 RBI and .655 OPS after it. … The Indians awful attendance numbers have been beaten to death, but here is another quick attendance number which may surprise you. Last year on Wednesday September 19th in a home game against the Twins the Indians (61-88) drew 13,519 fans. This year, on Thursday September 19th in a home game against the Astros the Indians (82-70) drew 12,607 fans.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Hermie13
September 23, 2013 - 4:26 PM EDT
"The winner would then go on to Tampa to play in a one-game wildcard playoff on Tuesday October 1st."

Maybe it was just a typo, but isn't the AL Wild Card playoff on Wednesday October 2nd?
Tony
September 23, 2013 - 2:45 PM EDT
I agree Steve when looking at Kipnis' performance collectively over a season. But the one thing that keeping him out of "star" caliber is that inconsistency each year. My number was probably broad at 5-7 as the position is pretty bad.....but in general, he's capable of so much more and potentially the top 2-3 at his position. If he had carried that performance in the first half through to the end of the season he'd be getting MVP talk and also "best at position" talk as well.
Steve
September 23, 2013 - 2:02 PM EDT
"Until [Kipnis] does that he can't be considered top 5-7 at his position"

Maybe you've missed the pool of talent at 2B. Kipnis is still top 5-7. He's 5th this year in wRC+ among 2B, and since the beginning of 2011, he's 6th.
Hermie13
September 23, 2013 - 1:47 PM EDT
I think you could see Ramirez on the roster. Looks like you only have 12 bats....that's possible, but with a 4 man rotation, you can have 8 pen guys even with 13 bats on the team.

Bench of Stubbs, Aviles, Giambi, and Ramirez is possible IMO (Gomes, Santana, and Raburn all starting).
Rick
September 23, 2013 - 12:29 PM EDT
Avory raises some very good points. To which I would counter with why they Blue Jays let Yon go to us to begin with. Their faith in JP Arienciba.

Yon has blown his numbers away -even more so than Carlos.

There are many reasons why I believe the Indians front office has done things right while Toronto has whiffed badly. But it's mainly because our management is smarter and has executed better.

For one, we managed to keep Sandy Alomar from getting poached away after hiring Tito. Add to that Tito brings Cash with him and Cash has the inside skinny on just how good Yon 'might' be.

I love Carlo Santana. But this crap about his being an elite anything is not holding up. HE HAS NEVER MATURED INTO THE ELITE EVERYDAY CATCHER EVERYONE HOPED FOR.

NEVER. The numbers don't lie. He can't gun down runners and he is always beat up. What is more is not only is Yon in elite territory with 40%+ runners gunned - when he is behind the dish the era for his batter mate is over 1 point (run) lower.

There is no doubt Carlos and his agent will be (because HE IS UNDER CONTRACT FOLKS) discouraged -given how hard Carlos has worked at this. But. What is he going to complain about? That management went out and stole a largely untested rookie who came in and embarrassed him?

If that is how Carlos' agent negotiates then he needs a new agent not a new team.

The important point is that Carlos has taken all of this as the consummate professional that he is. And the team is handling it all very well in my view.

After all Ariencebia is a cautionary tale for another reason. Same with Avila in Detroit. Just because they have one great year doesn't mean they are going to repeat it. You just don't see too may Molina's and Buster P.'s - because it's such a hard position to live up to - and stay healthy enough to be special.

Yon has been tremendous. But he has been humble in his approach - for good reason. It's a great first step. But he hasn't been THE CATCHER for even a year.

Tony is right - this is a blessing. It's fallen into their lap and they have handled it about as perfectly as one could expect.

AS to how much Yon or Carlos has (or hasn't) factored into the incredible leap forward concerning the development of Kluber, Salazar, McCallister, as well as solidifying the talent of Ubaldo and Masty, well, we will get an answer from the front office ....

in good time. It's been one special year.
Tony
September 23, 2013 - 9:52 AM EDT
Avory, I don't really see a problem right now with the catching situation for the Indians. Santana is too valuable of a bat to trade. It would be insane to do so right now. At this point I'd advocate a 50-50 split at catcher next season for both Gomes/Santana and then let Santana play 1B for 35 games and DH 35 games. That will help keep him fresh and healthy, and ready to cash in when he is up for FA in a few years. It would also allow ample time for Gomes to play and be more of a contributor to the team as a regular and not just a role player (and also prove whether he can start and produce/perform over a full season).

I'm one of the few who still believe that Santana can be a starting catcher still in this league. But that said, he has to start showing it. The arm and tools are there....but he has gotten lazy behind the plate and he has to get much better with his caught stealing percentage. Gomes is a superior defensive catcher right now, and Santana a superior hitter; however, if Gomes can continue to hit like he does now that superior defense and good offense will win out at the position and result in Santana getting less playing time at the position.

It's really a good problem to have when you have two ML starting quality defenders that are near All Stars at the position. Gives you a lot of flexibility with the lineup and options. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Gomes play some first base and even third base next year to keep his bat in the lineup.
Avory
September 23, 2013 - 4:28 AM EDT
Tony, you've identified what I consider the main flashpoint facing the organization over the winter, one conveniently ignored by the excitement over the wildcard chase. I've heard that Carlos Santana is hurt by his virtual demotion to second string catcher, and who can really blame him. He worked hard to become a catcher in the major leagues and he's been summarily shoved aside, primarily because of the team's offensive woes. To his credit, he's swallowed hard and hasn't created waves because he is a good teammate and wants to win like everyone else. But if Cleveland plans to make Santana a permanent backup at catcher and a sometime 1B/DH, rotating him like they are doing right now, I'm sorry, this simply won't work for a 27-year old even if he is under contract long term. Santana's value when he becomes a free agent will be entirely wrapped up in being an elite offensive switch-hitting catcher, not a middle of the road 1B/DH. There is no way the Tribe can get Santana to agree to be a backup in 2014 without creating a problem, which means that I expect the Tribe to seriously consider trading Carlos for a promising middle of the order bat that can play RF. There is no question that Carlos has immense attraction given his position and contract status, but to undermine this young man's value--both to the team and to himself--by further eroding the perception of him as a starting catcher is not something a value-conscious organization does. You may be right that the team may be reluctant to commit fully to Gomes, but I'm willing to bet that Carlos will be on the market this winter and if there is a taker with an attractive offer, I expect the Indians to deal. I just hope we make the right choice, because I still don't think we've seen the best of Carlos offensively, and I think he's proven his durability behind the plate. This is a big decision for the Tribe, but like QB's, there's little chance that two young catchers who can hit will want to share catching duties equally in this day and age. It's an untenable situation for long, and I don't think the Tribe will want to try and finesse it. If they do, I expect they will hear from Carlos Santana's representatives with a request to move their client to a situation that maximizes his value. This dynamic, as well as the fact that the Tribe has depth at catcher in its system, argues for move, and sadly, will likely mean the departure of Carlos Santana sooner rather than later. Let's hope Gomes validates the faith so many have developed in him so quickly, and frankly, has led many to badmouth Carlos's backstopping abilities in the process. This just can't continue.
MT88 in WI
September 22, 2013 - 10:50 PM EDT
I really hope Francona can see it to shrink the pitching staff to 12 for any playoff game/ series.

Kubel hasn't shown me a reason to be on the postseason roster. Jose Ramirez has shown me some reasons. Reducing the pen by 1 allows for Giambi and Ramirez to be on the bench to assist where needed....

# RollTribe
Tony
September 22, 2013 - 9:58 PM EDT
I don't know what it is with Kipnis either. Sometimes guys just have these kind of funky splits......but he needs to be more consistent. The Indians need that guy he was in the first half - or something close to it - for an entire season. Until he does that he can't be considered top 5-7 at his position. The consistency with his game is all that is missing and preventing him from being a flat out star. He's damn good right now....but man, whenever he does become more consistent, look out.

I'm a firm Gomes believer now. At first, I was unsure what to expect because I would not believe the Jays just gave away a legit ML quality catcher. You are skeptical. He's proven to be a very valuable pickup. I'm still somewhat skeptical on him as sometimes guys will shine as rookies and then fall flat on their face in their second year.....so I won't truly be comfortable with him until midseason next year.

Thanks for the kind words Shy. I hope the Indians can finish it off with a playoff berth and long playoff run. Sad to think if they miss the playoffs or lose the first round game it all comes to an end in about a week.
shy
September 22, 2013 - 12:30 PM EDT
I don't know what to make of Kipnis. He was soooo hot before the the All Star break- this is the third year in a row his numbers have dropped off the table. The cynic in me says he had a conversation with his agent and they agreed that if he made the All Star team, he could add a couple million to his next contract, regardless of what else happens, so it would be worth stacking some PED's for 6 weeks and then dropping them in H2 to avoid getting caught. I don't know how else to explain the second half drop-offs. He's young, he appears to be in good health with no age-fatigue related physical limitations. Thanks for giving Yan Gomes his due- I saw something right away in him in spring training. I think the natural ability was always there, but he had a late start in baseball- didn't really start playing competitively until he was a little older than the other kids and he was easy to overlook because of his quiet personality and background. He's a major gamer. Reminds me of A.J. Pierczynski but more even more athletic and with a sense of humor... This has been a wonderful year Tony and everyone at IPI has done a wonderful job describing it. Go Tribe!!!!!!!

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