Sleep­ing on Cleve­land?

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - John Per­rotto

The In­di­ans don’t have the wins to match the AL’s other elite teams, but health and depth look to be on their side.

CLEVE­LAND – Terry Fran­cona is one of the best man­agers in base­ball. but many years ago he was a pretty good bas­ket­ball player.

Fran­cona av­er­aged nearly 20 points per game as a se­nior at New Brighton High School in the Pitts­burgh area. He was an out­stand­ing out­side shooter in an era be­fore the 3-point field goal was in­sti­tuted at the scholastic level.

All these years later, he still has a great love for bas­ket­ball and has sea­son tick­ets at his alma mater, the Uni­ver­sity of Ari­zona. He is also an ar­dent fan of the Cava­liers.

So it is prob­a­bly fit­ting to use a bas­ket­ball term to de­scribe the task ahead for Fran­cona’s In­di­ans in the post­sea­son. They face a tough bracket in the Amer­i­can League.

The four best records in the ma­jor leagues all were in the AL — the Red Sox (108-54), Astros (103-59), Yan­kees (100-62) and Ath­let­ics (97-65) — and 2018 marked the first time there were three 100-win teams in the same sea­son. The In­di­ans will play a best-of-5 di­vi­sion se­ries against the Astros, the de­fend­ing World Se­ries cham­pi­ons.

Al­though the In­di­ans be­came the first team in the ma­jors to clinch a di­vi­sion ti­tle, wrap­ping up their third con­sec­u­tive AL Cen­tral cham­pi­onship on Sept. 16, they were 91-71.

Thus, it would seem the In­di­ans are de­cided un­der­dogs as they at­tempt to reach the World Se­ries for the sec­ond time in three years and win it for the first time since 1948. The In­di­ans’ 70-year World Se­ries ti­tle drought is the long­est cur­rent one in the big leagues.

How­ever, star short­stop Fran­cisco Lin­dor scoffs at the sug­ges­tion the In­di­ans are long shots to win the AL.

“Re­mem­ber two years ago?” Lin­dor asks. “I don’t think too many peo­ple out­side of Cleve­land gave us a chance to get to the World Se­ries. We had to beat two great teams to get there and we did it.”

In­deed, the In­di­ans knocked off the Red Sox in the AL Di­vi­sion Se­ries and the Blue Jays in the AL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries be­fore fall­ing to the Cubs in Game 7 of the World Se­ries.

The In­di­ans are con­vinced they can do it again.

“We’ve had some ups and downs and we’ve had our share of in­juries,” Lin­dor says. “But things are start­ing to come to­gether now. We fi­nally have our full team to­gether and we are ready to play our best base­ball.”

The bullpen, a strength for the In­di­ans for so many years, strug­gled through much of the sea­son as closer Cody Allen was in­con­sis­tent and star left-han­der An­drew Miller dealt with a va­ri­ety of in­juries that forced him to the dis­abled list three times.

How­ever, the re­lief corps has sta­bi­lized since the In­di­ans ac­quired left-han­der Brad Hand and right-han­der Adam Cim­ber from the Padres in a July 19 trade for top catch­ing prospect Fran­cisco Me­jia.

Hand has taken some of the closer’s load off Allen, con­vert­ing eight of his first 10 save op­por­tu­ni­ties with the In­di­ans with a 2.28 ERA in 28 games. Mean­while, Miller is fi­nally healthy and well-rested as he had been lim­ited to just 34 in­nings over 37 ap­pear­ances.

“I feel re­ally good about the bullpen and the way it sets up,” Fran­cona says. “We’ve got it back on track.”

The In­di­ans also have the start­ing pitch­ing depth to po­ten­tially make a long post­sea­son run with Corey Klu­ber, Car­los Car­rasco, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger. All have more than 200 strike­outs, the first time in ma­jor league his­tory four pitch­ers on the same team have reached the mile­stone in the same sea­son.

“We can put a qual­ity pitcher on the mound ev­ery day and that gives us con­fi­dence that we can win any game,” In­di­ans veteran out­fielder Ra­jai Davis says.

Bauer would have likely been a Cy Young can­di­date un­til his sea­son was in­ter­rupted by a bro­ken fibula in his lower right leg. The in­jury oc­curred Aug. 11 when he was struck by a line drive off the bat of White Sox first base­man Jose Abreu.

Noted for his in­tense work­outs, Bauer found ways to con­tinue to throw and main­tain arm strength while in a walk­ing boot. He re­turned to ac­tion Sept. 21 and pitched 11⁄3 score­less in­nings against the Red Sox. Bauer then yielded two runs in four in­nings Sept. 25 against the White Sox, throw­ing 60 pitches, fol­lowed by an­other four-in­ning out­ing Sept. 30 against the Royals in which he threw 51 pitches

DAVID RICHARD/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

The In­di­ans are count­ing on 2015 AL MVP Josh Don­ald­son mak­ing their lineup more dan­ger­ous in the play­offs af­ter ac­quir­ing him from the Blue Jays in a trade Aug. 31.

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