CLEVELAND — Thanks to Jose Ramirez's 10th inning walk-off home run against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night, the question the Cleveland Indians now find themselves facing isn't if they'll make the 2020 MLB Playoffs, but rather, how far will they go?
For the fourth time in the past five years, the Indians are heading to the postseason, where they'll try to advance past the Divisional Series round for the first time since 2016. With one of the best pitching staffs in baseball and a legitimate MVP candidate in Ramirez, Cleveland has the tools to do just that, although it will need to break some bad habits and perhaps be on the right side of some luck.
From a talent standpoint, the Indians have the ability to make a World Series push, but also enough shortcomings that they could find themselves facing another early-October exit. With that in mind, let's take a look at three keys to Cleveland to making a deep run in the 2020 postseason.
Help for Jose
The Indians' offense starts with Ramirez, who has now hit six home runs in Cleveland's past six games.
The problem, however, is that often times, the Indians offense also ends with the 2-time All-Star third baseman, as evidenced by no other player on the team reaching double-digit home runs or 30 RBIs at this point in the shortened 60-game season. As of Wednesday, Cleveland ranks 26th in baseball with an average of 4.15 runs per game.
If the Indians are going to make a run, Ramirez can't do it alone and will need help from the likes of Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, Cesar Hernandez and Franmil Reyes. Additionally, Cleveland will likely need an unexpected contributor to step up and become the type of unlikely hero postseasons are made of.
While the Indians' starting pitching staff doesn't possess many question marks -- even after trading Mike Clevinger to the San Diego Padres -- the same can't be said of Cleveland's bullpen. Despite steady overall numbers -- the Indians' bullpen ranks sixth in baseball with a 3.69 ERA -- Cleveland's relievers have endured some shaky individual performances in recent weeks.
In an effort to shore up some issues and make the most of their roster the Indians said they plan on experimenting with moving rookie Triston McKenzie into the bullpen between now and the start of the postseason. The former top prospect in the Cleveland organization, the right-handed McKenzie possesses all the tools necessary to be a secret weapon out of the bullpen for the Indians in the coming weeks.
In addition to McKenzie, other bullpen X-factors for the Indians include James Karinchak (2.52 ERA, 48 strikeouts) and closer Brad Hand, who has yet to blow a save and leads all of baseball with 14 saves in 2020. Of course, if Cleveland's starters pitch to their potential, the opportunities for the Indians bullpen may be limited.
What's in a manager?
Due to health issues, Indians manager Terry Francona has not managed the team since Aug. 21. It remains undetermined when -- or if -- the 2-time World Series champion manager will be able to manage Cleveland during its upcoming postseason run.
Indians first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. has served as Cleveland's acting manager in place of Francona. And while Alomar has been considered a promising managerial candidate, the reality remains that Francona's resume is tough to top.
Considering the unique nature of the 2020 postseason, the Indians are going to need every advantage they can possibly get. And while it goes without saying his health comes first and foremost, Francona's potential presence could play a massive role in determining just how far this Indians team plays into October.