David Morgan owner and editor of the excellent The Planet Of Baseball, joins us to ensure we don’t forget about the Indians post-streak.
For many years the fans of professional team sports in the city of Cleveland, Ohio had very little to cheer about. The last great season achieved by any of their teams was the 1964 National Football League Championship won by the Cleveland Browns. Their professional basketball team, the Cavaliers, had never been able to win a title and the last World Series victory for the home town Indians was in 1948. Sports fans in Cleveland became accustomed to the losing seasons and at times it seemed it would never end.
This all changed in June of 2016 when superstar LeBron James led his Cavaliers to their first ever NBA championship. They accomplished this feat in dramatic fashion by being the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the final series to win the title. This first championship in 52 years was followed by the Indians winning the American League pennant and representing the AL in the 2016 World Series.
The Indians squared off in the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs had not won the series since 1908, a drought of more than 100 years. The Indians jumped out to a 3-1 lead and were poised to bring Cleveland two championships in one year for the first time in the city’s history. But in a mirror image of the Cavaliers, they collapsed and lost the last three games in succession. In game 7 they fought valiantly but lost in extra innings, giving the title to the Cubs and leaving the Cleveland fans to wonder if they would ever see the Indians win a championship again.
The annals of professional sports are littered with stories of great teams that almost make it to the top only to fail and never get another chance. Following their devastating loss to the Cubs, the Indians were in prime position to follow the trend. However, they have recovered in spectacular fashion. Manager Terry Francona has guided the team to the best record in the American League and the Indians made a run at a 101 year old record of 26 straight wins held by the New York Giants.
They fell short of that record by 4 games, winning 22 in a row to post the second longest winning streak in major league history. The fact that this is just the fourth winning streak of 20 games or more since 1901 shows how difficult this task is and points to the heart and determination of the club. Rather than rolling over and going through the motions after their crushing defeat in the 2016 World Series, the Indians have attacked the 2017 season with a vengeance and are now in position to redeem themselves and capture the elusive title. They are one of the favorites to defend their American League crown and challenge the National League winners again in the fall classic.
Teams often have a big turnover in players on a year to year basis, with trades and free agency fostering player movement that is initiated either by the team or individual players. Following their defeat the Indians immediately exercised their option to retain slugger Carlos Santana who had hit a career high 34 home runs in 2016. They had previously locked up the core of their team with long term contracts, assuring the return in 2017 of a team that had a proven ability to win and was hungry to erase the memory of the game 7 loss the previous year.
Cleveland has one of the best sets of starting pitchers in the majors. They are led by Cy Young award candidate Corey Kluber who currently sports a 17 and 4 record and a 2.35 ERA which are both tops in the American League. Right behind Kluber is Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer who both have accumulated 16 wins this season. As of September 18th, Mike Clevinger is in the midst of a streak during which he has a 4-0 record and has given up only one earned run. This is a formidable pitching staff that will be tough for any team to conquer. Their bullpen is led by closer Cody Allen with his 2.47 ERA and 28 saves and set up man Andrew Miller with his 1.61 ERA over 50 appearances. While not the best in the league they are definitely more than serviceable and can pick up the starters when needed.
The Cleveland pitchers are backed up by the leading fielding team in the AL having made only 70 errors over the first 150 games this year. With this caliber defensive team behind them the Indian’s hurlers have the confidence to pitch freely and not force strikeouts.
This year the Indians sent 5 players to the All-Star game, the most the club has sent since 2004. Besides the aforementioned Kluber and Miller they have three position players that earned the honor and have been instrumental in both their winning streak and overall season dominance. Third baseman Jose Ramirez is having a career year with 27 home runs and 75 RBI to go along with a league leading 50 doubles. Francisco Lindor, the Indian’s shortstop, is also having a career season with 30 home runs, more than in his previous two seasons combined and over 80 RBI as of mid-September. Left fielder Michael Brantley rounds out the all-star cast and is also having a good year though he has been hampered by some injuries.
In addition to these players, Cleveland has one of the best designated hitters in the game in Edwin Encarnacion who has powered the club with 36 homers and 94 RBI. The addition of Jay Bruce from the Mets at the trading deadline has given them some extra depth that will come in handy during the stretch run and the playoffs.
The Indians currently possess the second best record in baseball with only the Dodgers a few games better at this time. The betting prognosticators in Las Vegas have the Indians as the best bet to win the 2017 World Series, giving them odds of 9-4 with the Dodgers at 5-2. Though the incredible winning streak is over you shouldn’t be surprised to see the Indians achieve their goal of redemption and end the year as World Series Champions.