The Royals did some celebrating last night as they clinched their second consecutive playoff berth and first division title in 30 years. But the Royals still have something left to play for, namely home field advantage in the American League. They currently own a two game lead on the red-hot Toronto Blue Jays with ten games to go and the Blue Jays owning the tie-breaker due to head-to-head record.
Cleveland technically has something to play for as well, but with a four-game deficit to make up to grab a Wild Card spot with just a week to go, its looking like the Indians will miss post-season play for the second consecutive season. The Indians have been well under .500 most of the season, but got hot enough in late August and early September to reach .500 and climb to the periphery of the Wild Card race. They split their four game series with the Royals in Cleveland last week, and have pretty much alternated wins and losses over the last two weeks.
The Indians have some good young hitters in their prime, but are just eleventh in runs scored at 4.1 per game, and are dead last in the league in home runs. They have hit a bit better in the second half, even after jettisoning outfielders Brandon Moss, David Murphy and Michael Bourn. Shortstop Francisco Lindor will be a Rookie of the Year candidate despite spending the first two months of the season in the minor leagues. Second baseman Jason Kipnis has cooled off after a terrific first half, and has hit just .220/.277/.354 in 32 games since returning from the disabled list in mid-August. Outfielder Michael Brantley is nursing a shoulder injury and is questionable for action this weekend.
The Indians are a much worse hitting team on the road, hitting .240/.306/.382 away from Progressive Field. They are third-best in Baserunning Runs with a 75% success rate on stolen base attempts. Their defense has improved considerably with the addition of Lindor at shortstop and the positional change by Lonnie Chisenhall to the outfield. Chisenhall rates very well with defensive metrics, with some drawing parallels to Alex Gordon's transition to the outfield.
Carlos Carrasco has beaten the Royals three times this year, allowing just five runs in 20 innings. He is sixth in the league in strikeouts and boasts one of the best curveballs in baseball to go along with his 95 mph fastball. Danny Salazar is right behind Carrasco in strikeouts, but has struggled a bit in September with a 5.09 ERA in four starts. Salazar is a change-up artist, which fits well with his 95 mph fastball. Josh Tomlin has a low ERA through eight starts, but a ridiculously low BABIP. He has tossed two complete games in September, one against the Royals last week, and has walked just six hitters in eight starts.
Cody Allen has become one of the best young closers in the game, and could reach the century mark in strikeouts this weekend. He has 32 saves and a FIP of 1.84 to go along with 13.3 strikeouts-per-nine innings. The Indians have gotten good work out of failed starters and journeymen like Bryan Shaw, Jeff Manship. Ryan Webb, and Zach McAllister.
The Royals need to enjoy the moment, but shake off the hangover and get back to work. They have gone 9-7 against the Indians this year, but have struggled against fellow Central Division opponents in September. Finishing strong can not only give them the home field advantage that may be important, but alleviate a lot of concerns about the team's lackluster September.