Cleveland Indians recent hot streak will be insignificant without continued production in October
As the 2017 Major League Baseball season winds down, the Cleveland Indians have emerged as the story of the season. In this month alone, Cleveland, last year’s American League champions, ran off a mind-bending three-week stretch, winning a modern day record 22 consecutive games before a loss to the Kansas City Royals on Sept. 15. With only weeks remaining in the season, the timing of this streak may matter just as much as the record itself. In the wake of this stunning run, a critical question emerges: Have the Cleveland Indians peaked too soon?
Cleveland certainly didn’t come out of nowhere to go on a winning streak, as their 69-56 record on Aug. 23 had them in first place in the American League Central with a solid but unremarkable four-and-a-half game lead over the Minnesota Twins. A winning streak of this length, however, is nearly unprecedented in baseball history. Only the 1916 New York Giants reeled off a longer one, winning 26 games in a row. During this run, Cleveland starters dominated the league with a 1.77 earned run average as a staff, and the lineup dazzled, posting a .306 team batting average and a .937 on-base plus slugging percentage, which measures a team’s ability to get on base and hit for power. This OPS stat is truly sensational, as it so far exceeds the Houston Astros’ season-long OPS of .823, which leads the majors. Led by All-Stars, including shortstop Francisco Lindor, third baseman Jose Ramirez and ace starting pitcher Corey Kluber, they’ve truly got it going.
However, we’re still in September and there’s now time for Cleveland to cool off before the playoffs start. No team wants to be playing their best baseball in late August or early September, and the possibility that the best is now behind Cleveland should be the fear right now. In a perfect world, this kind of hot streak would just be getting started, carrying the team’s superior play and perceived momentum right into October. Perfectly timed runs like this have happened, in which a team rides a multi-week heat-check into playoff success. The 2007 Colorado Rockies serve as a prime example of this phenomenon. Led by an aging Todd Helton, peak Matt Holliday and a young Troy Tulowitzki, the team won 14 of the season’s final 15 games, including 11 in a row starting on Sept. 16. This run carried into October, during which they swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs before running into a wall and ultimately getting swept themselves by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Cleveland very well may be able to keep playing at this level, or close to it, for the remainder of the season. It is possible that they spent the first half of the year underperforming and now have it figured out. Or, it’s possible that this streak started a few weeks too soon. We’ll certainly see.
A few things do bode well for Cleveland, though. Two key contributors to the team were essentially non-factors during this stretch. All-Star reliever Andrew Miller returned on Sept.14 from a knee injury that kept him off the field for nearly a month. Miller has arguably been the best reliever in baseball for the past three seasons, and this period before the playoffs will allow him time to work his way back into form. Similarly, injured second baseman Jason Kipnis missed the entirety of the win streak. Kipnis was activated off the disabled list recently and is due to return to the team in center field, where he will be making his first career start.
With playoffs approaching, the team faces the tall task of maintaining this magical feeling emanating from the clubhouse.