A wild card for the Indians?

Rob Neyer had this article up yesterday. I was completely mystified to hear that the Indians are not only in the Wild Card hunt, but apparently have the best shot at it over the last couple of weeks of the season. I went to ESPN.com to see why the Indians are doing so well and…

I’m still trying to figure it out.

Only two Indians regulars have an OPS over 800 — Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana. By OPS+ (thanks Baseball Reference), we can add two other above average regulars: Michael Brantley and Nick Swisher. However, nobody is very below average either — the worst hitter has an 87 and is Michael Bourn. By WAR, Jason Kipnis again leads the Indians by rather a lot — he’s worth 5.5 wins, but that isn’t even good enough for 10th in the AL. A quick scan of the offensive leaderboards shows no Indians in any category in the top 10 except walks (Santana), caught stealing (Michael Bourn again), SB% (Drew Stubbs), sac flies (Kipnis!) and power-speed (Kipnis again).

So, then, it must be pitching. Let’s look there too.

Hmm… all five starters are either slightly above or slightly below league average by ERA+. The bullpen is okay but not spectacular. Now, rate stats suggest the starters are better than ERA would have you believe, but none of them is a legitimate Cy Young candidate (Justin Masterson has 14 wins, but I don’t think even the BBWAA would call him the best pitcher in the league).

I guess this comes from not being able to follow a team closely, but I genuinely have no clue how they did this well. If they make it into the playoffs, obviously anything can happen, and their schedule is weak enough that they could slip in as a wild card team. I just don’t really get why.

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