CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – Being the best team in the American League is good. So is having home field advantage. As of the start of play on Sunday, the Indians had the best record in the AL, and held home field advantage.
The importance of either of those coinciding aspects can be relatively minimal especially depending on the year, but in the AL playoff picture in 2017, the Indians having home field may hold a distinct benefit.
Sure, being able to play the final game of a series at Progressive Field may be beneficial, but it would probably be towards the bottom of the list in terms of important facets.
While the opportunity to play the Twins or any of the six other teams currently within 3 ½ games of the final wild card spot is enticing (the Yankees not as much), the main advantage of having the best record in 2017 would be who you would avoid playing.
Obviously the Indians would love not to play both the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox in a potential playoff run, but to not play either in a five game series is where a potential home field advantage would serve its purpose.
Considering their pitching prowess, the Indians would benefit from a longer series against any team purely for the war of attrition. The contrary would be the case for the Astros, boasting a lineup that tops baseball in AVG., OBP., SLUG%, wOBA, wRC+ and WAR.
The Astros rotation is no group of slouches themselves, 6th in FIP (4.00) and 4th in xFIP (3.84) entering Sunday, and just having added Justin Verlander. But part of the reason Verlander was a completely necessary addition was because of the struggles of that pitching staff down the stretch.
Houston’s second starter prior to Verlander, Lance McCullers, has not gone more than 5 1/3 innings in an outing since June 8th. The 23-year old rising star has also missed 49 days of the season to two separate stints on the disabled list, most recently July 31st to September 6th.
The window of opportunity against the top offense in baseball is much wider when seeing McCullers twice and Charlie Morton than just one dose of McCullers.
There are not a whole lot of statistics that tell the story of why a team would want to avoid Boston for as many games as possible. If you forget, take a look back to August 1st when the Sox posted a 5-, 4-, and 3-run inning en route to a 12-10 walk off win.
Playing two games at Fenway Park with one game to rebound from its unpredictable nature is not ideal. Playing three games in Boston with two more games at home is a little closer to it.
For what it is worth, the Red Sox have much better offensive numbers at home, but nothing great enough to discern a clear home field advantage aside from pure results. The Sox are 44-26 at Fenway.
By securing the top record in the American League, you reduce your potential plight to just one of the Astros lineup or Red Sox thunderdome, should you reach the ALCS.