The Cleveland Indians are the best thing in sports right now. Their 22-game winning streak has made baseball a headline story as the NFL season begins, and has everyone reminiscing about other record breakers.
The 22nd game was the most dramatic of all. A game-tying run in the bottom of the ninth was followed by MVP-candidate Jose Ramirez scoring the winning run in the bottom of the tenth. Kansas City’s own wildcard hopes were given a devastating blow, but the night at Progressive Field was all about the Tribe.
Led be exceptional starting pitching, supported by a bullpen anchored by the superb Andrew Miller and with a line-up as good as any in the game, the American League 2016 winners look unstoppable. That is easy to say of any team who have won 22 straight, of course.
— WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW (@Indians) September 15, 2017
There were fallibilities in the opening weeks of the season, as the Minnesota Twins got off to a great start in the American League Central. It took until mid-June for Cleveland to take charge at the top of the division, and they did not have a three-game-lead until July 29th. From then on, everything fell into place for Terry Francona’s team.
One key piece was the resurgence of big offseason acquisition, Edwin Encarnacion, after a rough start. Encarnacion has hit 34 dingers with an OPS of .867, his upturn has been indicative of the Indians in 2017.
At the time of writing, there are five Indians with a WAR over three and three starters with an ERA under 3.50. The bullpen is headlined by Miller and Cody Allen, and has been almost faultless despite the loss of Boone Logan for the rest of the season with a lat injury. Corey Kluber is obviously one of the aforementioned starters, and may well be in line for the Cy Young. Unlike the 2016 World Series, it is not a one man show, the rest of their rotation is now healthy and performing. Cleveland have shut their opponents out on 19 occasions this season.
— Hakem Dermish (@hakemdermish5) September 13, 2017
Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis – who will be healthy well before the postseason – form one of the best defensive infields in the majors. Finding a weak link in this Indians roster is almost impossible, especially with the playoff guile of Francona in the dugout.
The depth of their line-up was perhaps a concern compared to some others at the beginning of the year, but – as often is the case with hot teams – everyone is performing.
AL ERA: 1. Kluber 2.44 2. Sale 2.76. WHIP: 1. Kluber 0.87 2. Sale 0.95. K: 1. Sale 278 2. Kluber 243. xFIP: 1. Kluber 2.48 2. Sale 2.69
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) September 13, 2017
The losses of Bradley Zimmer and Logan have not caused any problems as yet, either. Zimmer had an OBP of .385 and great speed, though Logan’s absence could be missed for lefty-lefty matchups in October.
Very few teams can waltz through the playoffs, and there is no reason to assume the Indians will do that. This streak has seen them likely claim home field advantage, though, and that means a division series with the wildcard team.
Momentum is always so key in the postseason, but this run could have come too soon. Any defeat at the end of a hot streak is particularly tough. When this record breaker comes to an end, it will take another mammoth effort to build for the ALDS. How they recover will give a significant clue to their World Series credentials, and their potential opponents will be looking for any weaknesses to show.
As of now, the Indians are riding a wave. The timing and impact of that wave breaking will be telling for the fate of the Tribe in 2017. If they can negotiate the wildcard winners and Boston or Houston, they will be strong favourites to overcome anyone in the World Series