CLEVELAND (AP) -Clinching the AL Central title with a week left in the regular season gives the Indians plenty of time to strategize for the postseason.
It also gives fans the opportunity to shop.
Although they were slow to show up at Jacobs Field this season, fans responded to the Indians' first playoff berth in six years by buying T-shirts, hats and balls. Sunday, when the Indians clinched their first playoff spot since 2001, was the club's second biggest day in merchandise sales for a regular season game, Indians merchandising director Kurt Schloss said.
Sam Maul walked out of the team shop at Jacobs Field with a division champions T-shirt like the ones the Indians wore in the clubhouse during their champagne and beer-soaked celebration.
``It's a good team. It's not a high-priced, high-payroll team, but they've got a group of athletes that work together and believe in themselves,'' said Maul, 50, of Cleveland.
With seven games left and baseball's best record at 92-63 entering Monday night, the Indians could still win home-field advantage throughout the postseason and decide when the AL division series begins, Oct. 3 or 4.
The Indians, who have won 11 of 14 and are 22-6 since Aug. 25, feel there's no reason to let up now.
``It's really important for us to try to get home-field advantage,'' first baseman Ryan Garko said. ``We won't be able to relax until we know where we stand.''
While these last seven games at Seattle and Kansas City have plenty of meaning, the Indians also need to have everybody fresh for the postseason.
``We're still trying to end this thing with the best record and get some guys some rest who need it,'' general manager Mark Shapiro said. ``We want them to be in position to win that first series.''
With 18-game winners C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona each likely to pitch twice in the five-game division series, Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge must decide whether Paul Byrd or Jake Westbrook will pitch Game 3. The 25-man postseason roster also must be set.
The final week of the season also gives designated hitter Travis Hafner a little more time to get on a tear. Hafner's average and power numbers are down - he's hitting .256 with 23 home runs, but needs just four RBIs to reach 100 for the fourth straight season.
The Indians will likely face Boston or New York in the division series, two clubs they've struggled against this year, going 2-5 against the Red Sox and 0-6 vs. the Yankees.
Arlene Wise, a native Clevelander who lives in New York - and has gotten into some fights at Yankee Stadium - would love to see the Yankees knocked out again.
``I've never changed my allegiance to the Cleveland Indians,'' Wise said. ``I'm delighted. I'm glad to see them back. I just hope they go all the way.''
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