The Tribe are really putting things together lately, winning 9 straight. The club is 17 and 7 for the month of August. In this time, they have went from last in the division (5th worst record in all of baseball) all the way up to 3rd in the division, boasting the leagues 16th best record. With Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner set to return in the coming week, the Tribe could make a mess of the playoff picture in the American League.
This is not overreacting to the point where I am anointing the Tribe, kings of the Central, far from it. Rather, the Tribe are no longer a push over and a team which needs to be heavily prepared for. With 13 combined games remaining against the brutal Royals, Mariners, and Orioles, the Indians could very well get themselves into the Wild Card picture.
However, even if that does not occur, the run the Indians have gone on as of late has to be at the very least rewarding for a team that has been decimated with MAJOR injuries. Losing a Fausto Carmona, Victor Martinez, and Travis Hafner for two months or more would be a devastating blow to any franchise. For the cost efficient Indians, those loses are that much more substantial. Add in the trades of CC Sabathia and Casey Blake, which were directly related to the injuries to the aforementioned three, and this team has arguably been without 5 of its top 7 or 8 players for a third or more of the season.
To put this into perspective, imagine the Twins without Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Joe Nathan. Or the Angels without Vlad Guerrero, Torri Hunter, and Francisco Rodriguez. Certainly injuries are a part of baseball, but the type of loses the Indians have encountered this season have been nearly impossible to overcome.
Consider a team that has endured this many injuries and if the team was playing up to their expected level (as per Baseball Prospectus' Pythagorean formula), the Indians would be sitting fewer then 8 games away from the wild card. Now, have a team with a healthy Martinez. Keep Sabathia in town. Add a bat or reliever near the trade deadline. Even if the Indians did not win any of their additional games against the Red Sox, Twins, or White Sox (the teams they would be fighting for a playoff spot with), this team is certainly within striking distance with September ahead.
But "that is why they play the games", that is why even the best projection systems are only correct on 50% of the trials, that is why, you don't laugh at someone for picking the Rays to win the division!
(Note - The K Tribe has a much more appealing logo then the big league Tribe)