It feels like only yesterday that I was watching the AL Central standings with some sense of anxiety. The Indians have been top of the division for the vast majority of 2017 but I was cautious of the chasing pack nonetheless. When the Tribe were scuffling before the All Star break I, like most fans, was watching for the results of the Twins and Royals every night, just to see if Cleveland could extend their lead just a little bit more. At the end of July they had a slim two-game lead over Kansas City and things were looking good, but nothing was certain.
Then August happened. Then "The Streak" happened.
If you're reading this then you're surely aware that this Indians team just made history. On Tuesday night Corey Kluber pitched a complete game shutout in a 2-0 win against the Tigers, securing the Tribe's 20th straight victory, matching the AL record previously set by the A's in 2002. The following night they beat the Tigers again, 5-3 this time, to set a new AL record of 21 consecutive wins. Then on Thursday they went and sealed the deal, walking off against the Royals 3-2 thanks to a Jay Bruce 10th inning double. That was win number 22, giving the Tribe sole possession of the longest winning streak in Major League history, surpassing the Cubs's tally of 21 set in 1935. It clinched the Indians' trip to the playoffs as well, so there'll be no more looking over our shoulder at the Twins and Royals anymore.
Let's take a quick look at some of the key factors during this epic run:
Francisco Lindor's Emerging Leadership
The All Star with the best grin in baseball has been nothing short of spectacular in recent weeks. He has truly developed as a leader both on and off the field in 2017, stepping up in big moments and always quick to remind people that he's not alone out there.
This was no more evident than Thursday night's nail biter against the Royals. With the streak at 21 games and Kansas City leading 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, up stepped Lindor. With two strikes and two outs and the Tribe's historic run perilously close to ending, Lindor hit a line drive to the left field wall that just missed the outstretched glove of Alex Gordon. Erik Gonzalez had the presence of mind to take off once Lindor connected and he scored from first base to tie the game 2-2 and keep the streak alive. Cue absolute scenes in Cleveland.
In the last three weeks Lindor has slashed .360/.427/.767 with 9 homers and 20 RBIs. His overall numbers for the season have seen a healthy boost as a result: his 30 home runs lead the majors for all shortstops and his.842 OPS is good enough for third among shortstops as well. He is only behind the Rangers' Elvis Andrus in RBIs (79), doubles (38), hits (164) and runs (87).
Overall he's put in another incredible season and the Indians rely on his consistency. Thankfully for Indians fans he's hit his stride at just the right time.
Jose Ramirez Is A Legitimate MVP Contender
As far as the national media are concerned, Jose Ramirez has had a breakout season. I'm not inclined to argue with that but I would like to point out that Indians fans have known for some time now what a special player he is. It's only this year that everyone else is paying attention.
Ramirez has been the catalyst behind everything good in Cleveland this season, especially during the streak. He has slashed .423/.474/944 with 8 home runs and 11 doubles over the course of the Indians' consecutive winning run. His overall numbers are ridiculous: a .314/.368/.573 batting line for a .941 OPS, with 26 home runs, 73 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. Ramirez's 50 doubles lead the majors and he has just 64 strikeouts in 541 at-bats! There isn't another third baseman like him in the American League and he rivals the very best in the NL, guys like Nolan Arenado, Justin Turner and Kris Bryant.
He's put himself in a prime position to be considered for the AL MVP and it is definitely justified. His name is being floated around with the likes of Mike Trout, Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge. Altuve recently admitted, “Ramirez is a complete player... He’s an MVP-caliber player.’’ His all-around abilities have catapulted him into the limelight and it hasn't fazed Ramirez one bit. Jonah Keri just called him one of the most exciting players in baseball and now every baseball fan knows it.
Cleveland's rotation have been considered the strongest element of their team in recent years and that was largely down to the excellence of Corey Kluber. Nowadays he has support and the entire rotation have been unstoppable, as have the excellent bullpen. You could certainly argue that the entire pitching staff have been the most important factor towards the Tribe's success in 2017.
Kluber (16-4, 2.44 ERA), Carlos Carrasco (15-6, 3.41 ERA), Trevor Bauer (16-8, 4.33 ERA), Mike Clevinger (10-5, 3.21 ERA) and Josh Tomlin (9-9, 5.04 ERA) have all combined to form the most dominant rotation in the majors, and certainly the most effective. Kluber in particular has put together another award-worthy campaign: 243 strikeouts in 184.2 innings of work, restricting opposition hitters to a measly .191 batting average. Boston's Chris Sale is probably still considered by many to be the front-runner for the AL Cy Young but Kluber will undoubtedly push him all the way.
Over the course of this streak Kluber and Carrasco have combined for a miniscule 1.03 ERA and recorded 69 strikeouts between them. They have also granted just 3 walks. That is absolutely insane.
Together with the bullpen, who now have a healthy Andrew Miller back in their ranks, no team will want to face Kluber, Carrasco and co. Altogether they make a seriously scary proposition.