September; the month when the World Series winners find form and cruise through the regular season denouement. Recent research found only Kansas City Royals in 2015 were crowned world champions after a September which produced a win percentage of less than .500.
The obvious team in form is last season’s World Series runners-up, Cleveland Indians. At home to the Royals and trailing in the ninth, they found the form of champions to snatch a tenth inning win. It was 22nd consecutive victory, a new club record and sealing the American League Central Division in the process.
Last season’s painful World Series defeat seared through the Indians soul; 3 games to 1 up before losing 7 – 8 in the tenth inning of the seventh game? No-one connected with Cleveland wants a repeat of that this year; their determination to win shouldn’t be underestimated.
The postseason has a peculiar effect on players and coaches. Simple decisions during the regular season become complex, misjudgments more magnified. Whichever roster handles the pressure will triumph and the Indians are showing nerves of steel at the moment but confidence is transient; easily lost but hard won.
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Cleveland showed their ability to handle that pressure when their run ended in a 3 – 4 defeat to the Royals. The Indians responded with an 8 – 4 win the following game. Corey Kluber, the American League pitcher of the month in June and August, leads the way in the stats with 17 wins with 2.35 ERA.
The Indians are favorites to win the American League at +200 with Betway as of September 19, 2017 with Astros at +250 second favorites. Houston took their first AL Western divisional title with a 7 – 1 win over the Mariners which included starting pitcher Justin Verlander sending 10 batters back to the bench.
But the Indians biggest rivals are expected to be the L.A. Dodgers. Not just favorites for the National League Championship, they are clear at +125 for the World Series. At .644, their regular season win percentage is not much better than Cleveland’s .620.
The Dodgers will end the regular season with the NL West pennant for the fifth consecutive year. With the best record in the National League, they are set for home-field advantage in the play-offs. While their form in September has been patchier than the Indians, only the Nationals can alter that outcome.
Snakes in the Grass?
Intriguingly, the biggest threat to the Dodgers comes from the Arizona Diamondbacks, who took 6 off L.A. in their recent series, part of a 13-game Arizona winning streak. The pair’s starting rotation are almost inseparable with L.A. marginally ahead with a .343 ERA to the D-backs .345.
While Greinke may fancy the prospect of turning over his former employers, Robbie Ray’s form was stunning recently with 24 strikeouts and 1 run conceded in a 14-inning spell at the start of September. The Dodgers woes with left-handed pitchers is well-documented; Ray and Godley might carry that torment into the postseason.
At the moment, Washington trail L.A. by 6 games which at this late stage of the season is too much to claw back unless the Dodgers suffer a Devon Loch moment. The Nats are the best of a bad lot in the NL East which suggests they may flatter to deceive once again. They’ve never gone beyond the divisional series and it looks a ste too far this season as well.
If the MLB shareholders had their way, the World Series would probably be the Dodgers and the Yankees. The two wealthiest franchises with the biggest payroll would rekindle a rivalry last seen at this level 36 years ago. History oozes through the pores of both names; imagine the razzmatazz the money men could conjure up with the likes of Yogi Berra and Jackie Robinson as promotional tools.
However, the reality is that this one of the least likely of the potential World Series. It’s not that the Yankees are a bad team, just that others are stronger by a long way. It’s hard to look beyond the Indians coming through the American League although the Astros may think differently and the Dodgers are the team to beat, despite others coming close to matching their season record.
The series would have everything from offensive charm to defenses which know the meaning of the word. The outcome? It would be a brave man to bet against a repeat of the Dodgers series win when the pair met in Cleveland during June 2018. The Dodgers won 2 – 1 with the third game featuring a breathtaking 12 – 5 win for the Indians. But in the World Series, every game is expected to be tight and the Dodgers found the edge at Progressive Field in the opening two games of the series; they would find the edge in the Fall Classic as well.