The Indians have won 12 of their past 18 games and recently have taken two of three from each of the Central Division contenders: Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota.
If the Tribe were to continue to play at a .667 pace the rest of the season, it would finish with a plus .500 record of 82-80. But what would that mean in terms of fan response?
"It's been said that we play better in meaningless games,'' Indians infielder Jamey Carroll said. "To us, these games are not meaningless.''
On the other hand, even if the Indians finish the season strong, Carroll won't go home with a feeling of great accomplishment, because the team did not live up to expectations and make a run at the playoffs.
"I don't think so,'' he said. "At this point, we just want to go out and play well.''
Even players on teams going nohwere have careers to think about. No player with any intelligence wants to tank the last two months of a lost a season and diminish his own value.
With extreme frugality driving most of the Tribe's decisions, it's unlikely that even a valuable utility player like Carroll will be back next year, having earned $2.5 million in 2009. In fact, Carroll might still be traded if he has cleared waivers.
Not that spoiling someone else's party is a priority for the Indians, but they can still have an impact on the division race with18 games left against the three contenders.
The Tribe will play six games at the Metrodome and three at home against the Twins. The Tigers come to Progressive Field for three games and will play host to the Indians in Detroit for a three-game set. Only three games remain in Cleveland against the White Sox.
So far, the Tribe is 15-21 against these teams.
BULLPEN FINALLY SETTLING IN? -- For months, the Indians' bullpen was in such disarray, manager Eric Wedge was unable to pick definitive roles for his relievers. But lately, a pattern is beginning to emerge.
Chris Perez is becoming the setup man with an assist from Tony Sipp, and Joe Smith is working to hold leads in the seventh inning. These three haven't proven conclusively they can hold these jobs, but they have done well enough to raise Wedge's hopes.
"He (Perez) is working in that direction,'' the manager said. "There are a couple of (other) guys we're looking at in those spots, too, with Sipp and Smith. I think all three guys are moving in the right direction.''
Closer Kerry Wood, who has struggled to get consistent work, has pitched in three of the past four games, though only one came in a save situation.
DUBIOUS STREAK STOPPED -- Jose Contreras, the White Sox's talented but wildly inconsistent starter, had something to brag about, despite a 4-10 record and 4.95 ERA coming into his outing Sunday against the Indians.
His career record against Cleveland was 7-2 with a 3.02 ERA, and he was working on a five-game winning streak and 1.80 ERA against the Tribe.
That finally ended when he gave up four runs Sunday, and the Sox and Contreras went on to lose 8-4.
"He always gives us fits,'' Wedge said. ""But we had some good at-bats against him, and we did a good job of stringing hits.''
Wedge also thinks his team was successful at wearing Contreras down in the 90-degree heat, forcing him to throw 87 pitches in only 4 2/3 innings.
"We made him work,'' the manager said. ""That helped us eventually get to him.''
OTHER STUFF -- The Indians have won five of their past six series... David Huff is 2-0 in three starts against the White Sox, despite an 8.04 ERA... Jamey Carroll is batting .364 with 10 RBI in his past 13 games... Jhonny Peralta is batting .333 since the All-Star break.
FARM FACTS -- Matt LaPorta homered and drove in three runs, Lou Marson had three hits and Josh Barfield homered, but Columbus lost a 12-8 decision to Columbus.
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