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Tribe Notes

Chris Assenheimer: The Indians will definitely be underdogs in the postseason, but that doesn't mean they can't hold their own against the big dogs

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    Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez celebrate after both scored against the Pirates on July 25 in Cleveland. The young stars are two big reasons the Indians should have a shot against any team in the postseason.

    AP

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The Indians are probably the fourth-best team in the American League behind, in no particular order, the defending world champion Houston Astros, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

If you want to get technical, the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s had better records than Cleveland through Friday, though few believe either are superior to the impending Central Division champions.

Plus, none of it matters anyway.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that once you get to the postseason, anything can happen.

I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true.

The Indians were the AL favorites and at one time overall favorites to win the World Series last year and what did it get them?

A first-round ouster from a team that wasn’t half as good as them — on paper.

Well, the roles will be reversed this time around.

Though they patched up their hole-leaking bullpen prior to the trade deadline with the additions of two-time All-Star Brad Hand and promising rookie Adam Cimber, the Indians added only Leonys Martin — a defensive specialist — to their weak-sauce outfield that includes Brandon Guyer, Melky Cabrera, Rajai Davis and Greg Allen alongside All-Star Michael Brantley.

So no matter what they do on the August waiver wire — Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones, etc. — they’re going to enter October as the underdog.

But this is no run-of-the-mill underdog.

For starters, Cleveland’s rotation includes a pair of all-stars and Cy Young candidates in ace Corey Kluber, who’s won the award twice, and Trevor Bauer, who has pitched better than Kluber — and nearly everyone else in the majors thus far.

Then you throw in Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger, two of the league’s top starters for much of the season. We’re not even talking about Shane Bieber, who is in the midst of an impressive rookie season and could be used as a long man in the bullpen come playoff time.

Speaking of the bullpen, that’s top-notch, too — at least it is now or can be if left-hander Andrew Miller returns to his elite form after being activated from the disabled list Friday, where he has spent much of the season.

With the addition of Hand, the Indians have three legitimate closers once you throw in the actual closer — Cody Allen, who became the franchise leader in saves this year.

Neil Ramirez and Oliver Perez have been solid situational guys and Dan Otero will probably find a way onto the postseason roster as a veteran with experience, if Bieber doesn’t take his spot.

Don’t worry, Tribe fans, you won’t have to see any more of right-hander Zach McAllister, who was designated for assignment to clear room on the 25-man roster for Miller.

It would have been nice to add another bat to the lineup, preferably in right field, but the Indians are far from deficient in the offensive department.

Cleveland led the majors in runs in July and ranked third in the majors overall though Friday, with its team batting average of .259 ranking fourth in the big leagues.

Just like the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros, the Indians have potent weapons, including a pair of MVP candidates in third baseman Jose Ramirez and shortstop Francisco Lindor. It’s tough to find a better duo in the majors than those two.

With Brantley batting in between them and one of the game’s top home run hitters over the past five years, Edwin Encarnacion, hitting behind them, the Indians possess one of the most fearsome foursomes in baseball.

First baseman Yonder Alonso has also provided pop in his debut season with the Indians, entering Saturday with 18 homers and 64 RBIs in 97 games. The guy he replaced? Carlos Santana had hit 16 homers and driven in 63 runs in 108 games through Friday.

Finally, there’s Terry Francona, a Hall of Fame manager with two World Series titles.

No team has won more games in the AL since Tito came aboard in 2013 than the Indians, whom he’s guided to three postseason appearances in five years, including his masterful performance in 2016 that ended with Cleveland making it to Game 7 of the World Series.

Francona brings an intangible few teams possess, certainly not the Yankees and Red Sox, who are led by first-year managers Aaron Boone and Alex Cora.

The Indians have everything it takes to end their world championship drought. Yes, they may not be the favorites, but that isn’t required.

They just have to be the best once October begins.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 440-329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.
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