Do the Cleveland Indians still have a chance in the AL Central?

Losing both Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, center, is not helping the Cleveland Indians down the stretch. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

After the Cleveland Indians’ six-game road trip against fellow AL Central contenders, the Tribe finds itself four and half games out of first place. The 2-4 record against the White Sox and Tigers includes a sweep by the Tigers, and a hard fought series win over the White Sox. Things don’t appear to be very good for the Indians right now; this is the furthest they’ve been out of first place all season.

So, why should the Tribe still feel optimistic and believe this division is theirs for the taking? The answers lie in pitching, injuries and the schedule. The Tribe’s veteran center fielder and designated hitter, along with their vibrant rookie second baseman, have been injured in the past month during the crucial divisional road trip. Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Carrasco are all injured at the moment. With almost 40 games left, these starters should be able to return with time left to make a final push for a division title. Hafner injured his foot in the final innings of a bad series in Detroit. When the Indians are healthy, they are just as talented as their AL Central counterparts, if not the most talented team in the division.

The Indians went 2-4 on the division road trip with these injuries, while welcoming back a healthy Shin-Soo Choo, who had been on the disabled list. One solution could come with the news of the Minnesota Twins placing Jim Thome on waivers Monday. Thome, who started his career with the Tribe, was a fan favorite for many years and would be welcomed back like a hero if he were to be claimed by the Indians. Thome also brings postseason experience; something lacking on the current roster. Cleveland should be able to hang in contention during the next few weeks to rest injuries and make the final 10-game push for the division title.

The Indians’ next 14 games are against teams with a record below .500. Also, the Tribe is starting an 11-game homestand against Seattle, Oakland and Kansas City on Tuesday. This home stand could not come at a better time. Being four and a half games back, the Cleveland needs to pile on some wins, while the Tigers enter a tough stretch of games. The Tigers next 14 games come against a tough Tampa Bay Rays team, followed by 10 games against division rivals Chicago and Minnesota. Along with this stretch of games coming up, the Tribe has time to gain ground in the division race where the Indians and Tigers will play each other six more times.

The Indians pitching has currently been more deep and reliable this season. The team ERA is 0.30 lower than that of the Tigers. If the Tigers are forced to use their bullpen more down the stretch, their offense may not be able to keep up. But, the Tigers do have Justin Verlander, who is an inning-eater and a Cy Young candidate. Their other starters are productive, despite their dismal stats. In the final game on August 21 against Cleveland, the Tigers used seven different pitchers. This was on the hopes that Verlander threw another gem. All it will take is for Verlander to have one bad outing with a tired bullpen and the Tigers could see themselves fall into a slump because of a tired bullpen.

Four and a half games back with 40 games left, is possible with a talented club like the 2011 Cleveland Indians. Although they are facing a tough competitor in the Detroit Tigers, the Tribe is a young, fearless team that enjoys playing baseball. Given the start to their season, the Indians also know they are capable of playing at an elite level.

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