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Gasp! Seattle is Tribe's best bet?



Published: Wed, September 5, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A moment of silence please as we pay respects to the playoff hopes of the 2001 Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox.

... Thank you.

Yes, mathematically, the Red Sox and White Sox are "still alive" for October's games. (By the same theory, Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider are "still alive" for Oscar nominations and Marilyn Manson is "still alive" Kennedy Center lifetime achievement honors).

Not this year.

The American League's postseason race is down to five teams for four berths, and we're being very generous including the Minnesota Twins among the contenders.

It looks more and more as if the Seattle Mariners, Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians will battle each other beginning Oct. 2 for the right to represent the American League in the final World Series before baseball's next contract/lockout/strike (base your pick on how optimistic your personality is).

Looking ahead: Indians fans can't relax quite yet -- the starting rotation won't allow it. But as each day passes, it appears the Tribe will capture its sixth A.L. Central Division title in the past seven years.

After this week, 12 of the Indians' remaining 18 games are against also-rans.

And the six games of importance are against the Twins, the one American League team the Indians have dominated this year (10-3).

Barring a major collapse, the Indians should clinch the division by Sept. 23 when they complete a three-game set in Minneapolis' Metrodome.

That scenario begs this question -- which team would the Indians prefer to play in the best-of-five first-round series.

The choices aren't pretty -- the Mariners (baseball's team from the first day of the season) or the wild-card Athletics (who started off by losing 10 of their first 12 games, then caught fire and are blazing).

Mariners or Athletics -- pick your poison.

Here's what: What difference does it make, you ask? It depends on how much you value home-field advantage and how many times you'd like to see Bartolo Colon on the mound. Let's assume the Indians win the A.L. Central and the New York Yankees win the A.L. East. The division winner with the better record will open at home against the wild-card Athletics.

Normally, it's a no-brainer. The Indians usually dominate at Jacobs Field. Not this year.

In early August, the Indians were just one game above .500 in home games. Last week's sweep of the Red Sox has the Tribe 37-31 at home with 13 games to play.

The road record is a much more respectable 42-28.

The other factor to consider is days off in the first round of the playoffs.

The American League says the non-wild card series will open on Oct. 2 (a Tuesday) and Game 2 will be played on Oct. 4, both in Seattle. After a travel day, Games 3 and 4 will be played on Oct. 6-7 (Saturday and Sunday). If necessary, Game 5 will be back in Seattle on Oct. 8 (Monday).

Other option: Meanwhile, the wild-card series will begin with games on Oct. 3-4 (Wednesday and Thursday) at Cleveland or New York, and continue with Games 3 and 4 in Oakland on Oct. 6-7 (Saturday and Sunday). If necessary, Game 5 would be back East on Oct. 8.

If I'm Manager Charlie Manuel and I have to pick three starters for my postseason rotation, Colon and rookie C.C. Sabathia are one and two. (Picking a third right now can induce nightmares.)

If the Indians play the Mariners, Colon would be available to come back on four days rest and pitch Game 4. But if the opponent is the Athletics, Colon wouldn't be available again until Game 5.

That means Manuel would have need two starts from the likes of Steve Woodard, Dave Burba, Chuck Finley or Charles Nagy just to get Colon another chance.

Strange as it sounds, playing the Mariners in a best-of-five series with two days off might be the Indians' best bet.

XTom Williams covers Major League Baseball for The Vindicator. Write him at williams@vindy.com.




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