All of a sudden October doesn’t seem so scary.
In the first two games of the Boston series, against the mighty Red Sox, who are on pace to go 156-6 — or something like that — the Indians beat Boston with their most-experienced starting pitcher (Corey Kluber) and with their least-experienced starting pitcher (Shane Bieber).
In the first two games at Fenway Park, their first two games of the year against this year’s super team, the Indians went 2-0, without their top Cy Young candidate (Trevor Bauer), without their cleanup hitter (Edwin Encarnacion) and with their two MVP candidates (Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor) hitting a combined .063 — 1-for-16.
So two games into the series, with their big boppers not bopping and their Bauer not Bauering, the Indians still won both games. All of a sudden Halloween baseball seems possible in Cleveland.
It’s not that the Red Sox are maybe weaker than we thought. It’s that the Indians are maybe better than we thought. To reach that conclusion, the Indians needed a litmus test.
Say hello to Mr. Litmus.
Regardless of what happens in the last two games of the series, the Indians have made a point worth making — to their fans, to potential postseason opponents and to themselves.
It’s a point well taken: That despite the Indians romping to a division title in the competition-free AL Central, potential postseason opponents may underestimate the Tribe at their peril.
Because when the spirit moves them, this is a team that can play ball with the best in the majors. The Indians, as we are learning, are a very good team that’s getting better.
After spending much of the season putting injured players on the disabled list and looking frantically for replacements, the Indians, with the postseason less than six weeks away, appear to be congealing into the postseason team they were supposed to be last year.
Last year’s Indians team was all October sizzle, but no steak.
This year’s Indians may or may not be as talented as last year’s team. But this one has a chance to accomplish more.
Any roster that includes two strong MVP candidates and two strong Cy Young candidates is not to be taken lightly, even if that team is down to its third or fourth center fielder.
Speaking of which, Greg Allen? In his own personal two-day Boston tea party, Allen proved that neither his position nor the stage is too big for him. In the postseason you win with pitching and defense, and Allen’s defense is near Zimmeresque.
That the Indians went into Fenway, into the mouth of the beast as it were, and won two games in 24 hours against baseball’s winningest team, playing in baseball’s most intimidating ballpark, before one of baseball’s most rabid fanbases, was exactly the type of invigorating performance that was needed — and was delivered.
Because, let’s face it, being the best team in the Central Division is like being the best mountain climber in Florida. The Indians needed a test. They needed a wakeup call. They needed to play and beat an elite team. On Monday and Tuesday they checked all those boxes, and now October can’t get here fast enough.
Well, actually, the Indians wouldn’t mind if October pulled over for a pit top and a bite to eat. The Indians don’t need October to show up until after Bauer does.
Bauer has emerged this year as one of, if not the best pitcher in the American League. Naturally, however (these ARE the Indians), he’s now on the disabled list.
That’s the way it works in these parts. The Indians roll through the regular season with one of the best starting rotations in the game, and then when October appears on the horizon, someone gets hurt.
Two years ago it was Bauer himself, thanks to the drone wound heard round the world.
Last year it was 18-game winner Carlos Carrasco, who went 6-0 with a 1.27 ERA in his last six starts of the season before suffering a postseason-ending broken hand in his last regular-season start.
This year it’s Bauer again, with a stress fracture, after getting hit in the ankle by a line drive.
The problem for the Indians in their last three trips to the postseason is that when they got there, their biggest strength turned into their biggest weakness: their starting rotation, which was hampered by injuries.
It threatens to happen again this year, which would be awful timing again, because this Indians rotation might be the best they’ve had in the Terry Francona Era.
The Indians’ 2016 and ’17 trips to the postseason ended with an injured and/or overworked Kluber on the mound. In the 2018 postseason, a Bauer-Kluber-Carrasco top-of-the-rotation would make the Indians the most dangerous team in the tournament.
On Monday and Tuesday in Boston, they showed just how dangerous.
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