With the Cleveland Indians visiting Great American Ballpark this weekend for three games with an interstate rivals, the Cincinnati Reds, it’s time to examine which team from the Buckeye State has a better chance of making it to the postseason this year.
2nd place AL Central, 0.5 game back of Detroit
I was reluctant to buy into the Indians’ hot start, but there team has exceeded my expectations. They’ve cooled off quite a bit since the opening month yet they still find themselves five games over the .500-mark.
The pitching staff has been the most surprising part of the team with Justin Masterson pitching like ace, although he is 0-6 over his last 11 starts despite posting a 3.34 ERA. Young arms Josh Tomlin (3.86 ERA) and Carlos Carrasco (3.54 ERA) have combined to win 17 games. Closer Chris Perez (2.37 ERA, 19 SV) anchors a solid bullpen.
Designated Travis Hafner has been the spark plug of the offense. The team has missed his bat during Interleague games on the road. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is on his way to the All-Star Game with a breakout season. Cleveland will be without Shin Soo-Choo (thumb) until August or longer and that may be tough to overcome. They need the struggling Carlos Santana (.226 BA) and Grady Sizemore (.177 BA, .250 OBP since May 1) to contribute.
The division is favorable with only the Tigers joining the Indians on the winning-side of the ledger in the standings. The White Sox have been playing better and could still make a run. The Royals and Twins are out of it and should prove to be easy prey. Aside from a six-game stint in August on the road at Boston and Texas, the schedule sets up nicely for the Tribe after the All-Star break.
Tied for 3rd place NL Central, 2 games back of MIL/STL
Unlike the Indians, the bar was set high for the Reds entering the 2011 campaign as the defending NL Central champs. The team has struggled with consistency throughout the season, especially at the plate.
Reigning MVP Joey Votto has been solid, but the power numbers (11 HR, 50 RBI) are down. Brandon Phillips is emerging as one of the best in the game, but fellow Gold Glove infielder, third baseman Scott Rolen (54 games), has struggled to stay in the lineup. Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs have endured their growing pains and the team has struggled to get production from the left field and shortstop position.
The rotation, considered a strength of the team at the beginning of the season, has been marred by injuries and early-inning troubles. Johnny Cueto (5-2, 1.84 ERA in 10 starts) has been stellar since his return from the DL and Bronson Arroyo (three straight wins) and Edison Volquez (coming off best outing vs. TB) have shown some promise of late. Getting youngsters Mike Leake, Homer Bailey and Travis Wood to elevate their games will be a must. The bullpen has been reliable, including closer Francisco Cordero.
The NL Central is up for grabs and the Reds are the mix, but they will have to beat the other teams in the division. Their schedule is a bear. Cincinnati doesn’t play a team under .500 until the Astros come to town August 1. That’s entire month against teams with winning records. Things lighten up a bit after that, but the Redlegs will have little margin for error.
FINAL TAKE: Though I can see both teams making it into October, the Indians have a better path. Either team is going to have to win their divisions though as the Wildcard spot will come at a steeper price. However, if Choo doesn't make it back soon their playoff hopes take a big hit.