Thursday, September 13, 2007

Home again, home again...

The Tribe is back home and returns to the Jake tomorrow night, having stared down one of their biggest challenges of the season - the just-completed 10-game road trip to Minnesota, California and Chicago.

They opened the trip by defeating Johan Santana for the fifth time this year, used that momentum to sweep the Twins in the Twinkie Dome, split four games with the best home team in the league - the Angels - after losing the first two in that series, and took two of three from the White Sox.

As they have many times this year, the Tribe faced some extraordinary circumstances while taking 7 of 10 on the road.

They opened the trip with Santana, had to finish the California leg of the trip with a night game (thanks to ESPN), travel two-thirds of the way across the country for a game the next night against the Sox, played that game in a driving rain that resulted in a 2 1/2-hour rain delay and then played two more in Chicago before the trip-that-could-have-been-from-hell-but-wasn't came to an end.

Oh Ya! The trip was just the last leg of a 23-day stretch during which the Tribe played 23 games.

Can we cut them a break for being a bit sloppy on Wednesday? I'd say we can.

In addition to the continued emergence of Asdrubal Cabrera on this trip, a few other things came a bit more into focus.

Jensen Lewis is beginning to look a lot more like someone I will be glad to see on the playoff roster.

On the other side of that coin, Cliff Lee is pretty clearly - or should be - out of the Tribe's plans for the post-season roster, if not for next year as well.

Chris Gomez deseves more than the yawn he recieved when the Tribe traded for him.

The Kenny Lofton pickup was one of the better trade-deadline deals made in either league.
Travis Hafner is still firing on about three or four of his six cylinders.

And, this team has more guts than any of us were giving them credit for back in early August.

So now we look ahead.

The Tribe starts this nine-game homestand with a magic number of 11 and a 5 1/2 game lead over Detroit.

It would seem obvious that the key series of the bunch is the middle series - a three-gamer against Detroit. At this point, however, it's like playing the last couple of innings with a four- or five-run lead. You just need outs. In this case, you just need wins. It would be great to reduce the magic number two at a time by beating the Tigers head-to-head, but not essential.

Cleveland has 16 games left. The Tigers have 15. Of those 31 games, the "right" outcome must occur only 11 times. Clearly the Tribe has much less pressure on them than do the Tigers.

Nine of the Tribe's last 16 games are at home. Detroit plays six of 15 at home.

From there, things swing a little in the Tigers' favor schedule-wise.

Detroit has three games against a team with better than a .500 record. That would be the Tribe. They do have six against the Twins, who are close enough to the breakeven point that you might count them.

Cleveland has the three games against the Tigers and four on the road against Seattle. Their other remaining opponents (KC and Oakland) are below the breakeven mark.

The Tribe has one more trip to the West Coast. The Tigers go no farther west than Kansas City.

Detroit finishes with three on the road against Chicago, while the Tribe's last seven are away from home.

If the schedule seems slightly weighted in the Tigers' favor, just keep this most simple of barometers in mind. If the Tribe goes 8-8 the rest of the way, the Tigers will have to go 13-2 just to tie them.

Kick back. Enjoy the last two weeks, regardless of which way those three games go at the beginning of next week and no matter who is starting at quartback for that other Cleveland team.

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