Oct 2, 2018
Oct 2, 2018

Can the Cleveland Indians win the World Series?

The benefits of strong opposition

Full Strength at the right time

Flaws in the American League super-teams

Can the Cleveland Indians win the World Series?

Credit: Getty Images

The MLB playoffs begin soon and bettors are analysing the 2018 World Series challengers. Read on to understand why an unconventional World Series contender may provide value for enterprising bettors. Why can the Cleveland Indians win the World Series?

The benefits of strong opposition

Before the World Series, the Cleveland Indians (10.000*) are going to be an underdog against any opponent they face. For bettors this is a good thing.

100-win teams are rare in MLB, and this year’s American League features three of them, an all-time first. The Red Sox have set a franchise record for wins in a season, the Astros have been stronger than their championship-winning club from a year ago and the Yankees look to be on the verge of a run with the potential for a dynasty label.

Bettors are likely to be inclined to bet on one of the above teams, which is a good thing if you want to bet on Cleveland, who are perhaps in a better position to escape the American League than the markets will suggest. The Indians could be attractive price considering their opposition.

The makings of a playoff team

Despite their relatively high odds, Cleveland has all of the strengths needed for a playoff run.

Starting pitching

The Cleveland starting staff is powerful and incredibly deep. Mike Clevinger has struck out 9.32 hitters per nine innings, has an ERA/FIP/xFIP of 3.02/3.52/3.86, has thrown a top-15 200 innings and is the Indians’ fourth-best starter. Here are the statistics for the Clevelend pitching staff:

Cleveland Indians pitching staff









Trevor Bauer








Carlos Carrasco








Mike Clevinger








Corey Kluber








**All numbers as of 30-09-2019

This is the best starting rotation in the playoffs. Manager Terry Francona can rely on them more than other teams can their starters so the playoff bullpen management he is so famous for will be in full effect. The team will be able to rely on its elite relievers in a higher percentage of bullpen innings than other teams.


As mentioned earlier, the bullpen was a major issue in the season’s first half. This has now been remedied.

After placing 28th of 30 teams in bullpen WAR prior to the all-star break, Cleveland’s pen has moved up to 12th in the second half of the season and there are reasons for optimism beyond that.

Cleveland’s trade for Brad Hand shored up the bullpen in a major way and recent weeks have seen the return to form of Andrew Miller.

Cody Allen isn’t the same pitcher as he was a year ago but enters the playoffs rested and on a good run. Additionally, support staff Oliver Perez and Tyler Olson have been dominant of late.

In summary, much will be made of the troubled bullpen but bettors should be wary of placing too much emphasis on this. The Cleveland bullpen is in better shape than it was previously.


October will see the Indians lineup at its strongest. In Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, Cleveland boasts the two most valuable assets in MLB, with a solid support staff headed by rejuvenated Josh Donaldson (whose time with Cleveland has suggested his bat is in good shape), Michael Brantley and finally-healthy Edwin Encarnacion.

Cleveland’s offense has been the sixth-best in MLB this season according to Fangraphs’ offensive runs. Cleveland’s baserunning has been #1 (leading MLB in stolen bases). The defence is middling, but certainly not a weakness. Add in that mangers simply they do not come much better than Terry Francona and Cleveland look strong.

Full Strength at the right time

In part, Cleveland’s inferior record to the three American League favourites can be blamed on working out early difficulties.

Early in the season, the Indians’ bullpen fell apart and injury worries and failed early-season auditions contributed to a disproportionate number of losses considering the talent level the team has assembled. Now they have rediscovered their form at just the right time.

The addition of Hand has reinforced the bullpen and the return of Andrew Miller added to that reinforcement. Edwin Encarnacion is back to swinging freely and the trade for Donaldson provided yet another explosive bat.

Finally, star starter Trevor Bauer’s recovery is coming along nicely (as evidenced by four scoreless innings in game number 162) and he’ll be available to start in the post-season. This is all great timing for a playoff run.

The real question is Donaldson. Cleveland had little to lose and everything to gain in adding the 2015 AL MVP this is a hitter who can put a team on his back. If Donaldson is healthy, he will be a menace to opposing pitching as well as a potential difference maker.

Flaws in the American League super-teams

A large part of the argument in Cleveland’s favour is that the perception of Boston, Houston and New York being super-teams disguises the fact that all three are showing weaknesses.

The Boston Red Sox (3.950*) rolled over the competition this season, but have recently experienced serious issues.

First and foremost Chris Sale, the best pitcher in MLB this year when healthy, hasn’t been fully fit of late. In his final start of the regular season, amidst an attempted comeback from his August injury, Sale’s average fastball speed was at the lowest of any start in his career.

Additionally, a shaky bullpen that Dave Dombrowski failed to upgrade at the deadline has looked incredibly vulnerable at the worst time of the year. Playoff baseball features heightened bullpen reliance which could hinder Boston.

The Houston Astros (4.400*) and New York Yankees (11.570*), meanwhile, are both dealing with serious injury issues.

The Astros have seen starters Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton get hurt, while stars Carlos Correa (back) and George Springer (thumb) have both fallen off drastically from a year ago. Even healthy stars Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman haven’t been themselves of late, though that may just be late-season fatigue so there is a chance they will be rejuvenated for the playoffs.

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The Yankees have watched as superstar Aaron Judge has struggled after his hasty return from injury. Catcher Gary Sanchez has also suffered after returning from injury.

Shortstop Didi Gregorius hurt his wrist this week and, while he may attempt a cortisone-fuelled return, there are no guarantees he’ll be swinging the bat at full speed. Ace Luis Severino, who would have been guaranteed to start the wildcard game as of two months ago, has been one of the most-ineffective starters in MLB since. Additionally, whilst the Yankees’ bullpen is incredibly strong, closer Aroldis Chapman cannot be entirely relied-upon to stay healthy right now.

All three teams are viewed as strong World Series candidates and the betting market reflects that. However, they are perhaps not as strong as they first appear, providing Cleveland with an opportunity to upset the odds.

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