The Indians are off to a torrent start in 2011, but just like in school how much can really said of grades early in the semester. Sure it’s easy to go to class and do the homework, but the real separation comes in the form of the first exam. The next couple of weeks will serve as the Indians proverbial first exam of the 2011 season and it is this stretch from May 10th to May 25th that will show really what this club is capable of in 2011.
The stretch includes sixteen consecutive games including nine games against potential playoff teams like Tampa Bay, Boston, and Cincinnati. The other seven games come in the form of a three game series with Seattle and a pair of two games series against divisions rivals the Royals and the White Sox. Sure this is not the toughest stretch the Indians could have, but it is by far the longest streak without an off-day so far this year with the second longest being ten games in a row.
The biggest positive about this stretch is that twelve of the sixteen games are at home where the Indians have been downright dominate in 2011 with a 13-2 record. The games on the road, however, do come against Chicago and Kansas City, which could be problematic given that the Tribe is only 7-7 on the road so far in 2011.
The stretch begins at home against the Tampa Bay Rays who are playing much better after a slow start to the year. The Rays are just one game back of the Yankees in the AL East and appear to be getting better by the day. The next series is a three game stint with the Seattle Mariners. Although the Mariners were not expected to do much in 2011 they are only 14-17 and are managing to keep their head above water in the AL West. Seattle is led by perennial All-Star Ichiro and sophomore slugger Justin Smoak and have been riding the early success of their young starting rotation.
The Indians then hit the road for four AL Central division games with the Royals and White Sox. Just as surprising as the Indians have been the Kansas City Royals who are the only other AL Central team above the .500 mark at 17-14. The Indians have a 5-2 mark against the Royals already in 2011, but these two games are key to the Indians position in the AL Central.
Although the White Sox have had a horrid 2011 thus far with an 11-21 record it will be very hard for the Indians to forgot the whipping they received at their hands to start the season. It is clear that Chicago is not nearly as bad as their 11-21 record would suggest and this pair of games will give the Indians another chance to prove that they actually are every bit as good as their hot record would indicate.
The toughest part of the trip has to be the last six games against the Reds and Red Sox who both have strong playoff aspirations in 2011. The Indians have a night game in Chicago on the 19th followed by a night game in Cleveland on the 20th to start the six game stint against the Reds and Red Sox. If the Indians have not played well for the first ten games of this stretch it will be hard to see them breaking out of the slump against the Reds or Red Sox now that both teams are back on track for a playoff run.
Essentially these sixteen games will set the Tribe on one of three path moving forward into the middle third of the season. If they are able to continue their success at home and run right through this stretch with minimal damage they will have established themselves as the team to beat in the AL central and perhaps in the entire American league. If they are able to limp through without getting burned too badly they will be able to preserve their chances at a possible run at the division in 2011 that has the makings to be a race to the bottom sort of finish. Finally, if they fall on their face and lose twelve or more of the games this stretch would bring them back down to earth in the division and could have long term psychological effects on the team’s performance for the rest of the year.
This article originally appeared on LandLoyalty.com