The Cleveland Indians fanbase has a lot of hope for October.
Not only are the Indians at the top of the American League Central with a 14.5 game lead (as of September 18), but the team knows it has the potential to win the World Series.
Highlighted by the team's playoff run in 2016, the Indians' young stars, Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber and Jose Ramirez, combined with possibly the best bullpen in baseball, have proven they can win pressure-filled October baseball. Adding Edwin Encarnacion in free agency and getting Jason Kipnis back from the DL bolsters the proven core.
Unlike other professional sports, however, baseball is unpredictable. The 2001 Seattle Mariners won the most regular season games since 1906 with a 116-46 record. They were knocked out of the American League Championship Series in five games.
However, there is no guarantee the Indians do much of anything. What fans can do is project the chances and the probability of the Indians making it far in the postseason. After all, baseball is all a game of playing the percentages.
The Indians have been relatively steady with the bat all season. Ranking top ten in runs per game since mid-June, the Indians show no signs of slowing down run production. The team’s batting average, however, is a better indicator for post-season production.
Modern sabermetrics bash batting average, and on-base plus slugging is a better indicator of run creation. But in the postseason with its frigid temperatures, winds blowing every which way and teams playing their best starters/relievers each day, teams that swing for the fences and can’t get on base struggle to score runs.
Just look at the 2015 Royals and the 2008 Phillies for example. The Royals were one of the best small ball team in years, while the Phillies had some of the best power in years. By the end of each of their prospective postseasons, the Royals had 90 runs (6 per game), while the Phillies scored 64 (4.5 per game).
In fact, since the start of the decade, the World Series champion has always been a team that was top ten in batting average or number one in team ERA (2016 Cubs; 2010 Giants). In other words, the team better be able to put together rallies or have its own pitchers outduel the opponents' star pitchers.
Good news for Indians fans: Cleveland is fifth in batting average and first in team earn run average. The offense clearly has the firepower to deliver the big hits while having men on base from simply making solid contact (the Indians are ninth in Hard Ball Percentage). The offense, which has averaged more runs per game and a higher batting average (while not having Michael Brantley or Jason Kipnis for the large portion of the season) compared to 2016, is post-season ready.
Just like in 2016, the Indians' starting rotation is reliable and led by one of the best pitchers in baseball, Corey Kluber. Their starting rotation ERA ranks fourth in the MLB and proved last year they can take the pressure of the playoffs. The rotation showed it can handle the postseason, even though half of the remaining pitchers on the disabled list. Unlike last year, the Indians will have both Danny Salazar and Carlos Corrasco healthy for October.
In the latter half of games, Cleveland is led by statistically the best bullpen in baseball with a bullpen ERA of 2.77. Even with Andrew Miller being on the DL for nearly a month, the Indians relievers have posted the fifth best bullpen ERA since the start of August. MLB teams have recently put significance on bullpens, and the Indians are clearly no different.
From start to finish, the Indians pitching is dominant and can shut down any opponent’s offense.
An often undervalued part of baseball is in favor of the Indians. After heartbreak of losing game seven of the World Series, the Indians have experience of post-season baseball, schedule and pressure.
Going back and looking at past World Series champions, we can see how experience influenced their own teams. The 2015 Cubs reached the National League Championship Series, the 2014 Royals lost in the World Series to the Giants and the 2013 Giants had already won the World Series twice in the past three years. All of those teams went on to win the World Series the following year with the same core of players.
In 2016, the Indians were seen as the inexperienced team after posting a near .500 record in the preceding season, while the Cubs had reached the NLCS the year prior. Now, Cleveland has the upper hand and is ready to pounce on the opportunity.
In the end, all fans can do is wait and see. The Indians are currently tied first for best odds to win the World Series, while sabermetric calculations put the Indians at a 21.0 percent chance to win it all (best of any MLB team), according to TeamRankings.com.
Cleveland’s team is built just like last year – except it has added more pieces and gained more experience. The Indians showed improvements by raising runs per game and batting average, while also lowering their bullpen ERA and starters ERA. All around, the Indians are substantially better in 2017 than in 2016, when they were just one run away from winning the World Series. There's no reason to think they won’t win it all this year.