The Cleveland Indians deserve a round of applause. They really do. Winning 22 consecutive games in this day and age is something that’s should be celebrated. I mean, we made a movie about the last team to win 20! Not only does the Tribe own the second-longest winning streak in MLB history, but they’re just the second team in 30 years to reach over 16+ consecutive wins. This is something that doesn’t happen often, or ever really. I mean, I’ve seen two 20+ game winning streaks in my lifetime. That’s actually nuts. Do you guys realize how rare that is? That rarified air the Indians are breathing? We’re breathing that too! We’re all winners.
But I have a feeling the winning will stop here, and that the Cleveland Indians do not reach the World Series… maybe not even the ALCS…
Unpopular opinion, FOR SURE, I hear you, but let’s think about this logically. This is a team coming off a grueling stretch of games and now they are going into the playoffs in two weeks and their guys are just now getting a break. So you’re taking your hottest guys and putting them on ice for the playoffs because you’ve been on a winning streak? Because you couldn’t sit them during the streak? I only ask because this team is about to embark on a very, very tough playoff stretch, and I’m sure we want those guys healthy.
Let’s look back before looking ahead, shall we?
The 2017 Season has been a strong one for Cleveland, seizing the top spot in the AL Central on June 26th and never letting go. As of publication, the Tribe stands atop the division with 14.5 games separating them and the second place Minnesota Twins. Besides taking their division by storm and going on their incredible 22 game run, the Indians have also usurped the top spot in the entire American League, effectively taking the number one seed away from the Houston Astros. The Astros have been playing good baseball since the beginning of the season, and dominated the weak AL West early on in the year to take a commanding lead. Since May it seemed like it would be impossible to catch up with the young Astros team in Houston, but here we are two weeks from the playoffs, and the Astros are the second seed. How? The Tribe has been playing out of their minds.
Corey Kluber is the star of this team and should be treated as such. In a career year of the Ace of this staff, Kluber’s been putting up some insane numbers. On the surface, his 17-4 record and 2.34 ERA speak volumes for his value to the club, but a closer look really illuminates how dominant Kluber has been in 2017. WIth his 0.850 WHIP, 6.1 H/9, 1.6 BB/9 and his 11.8 K/9, Kluber has been suffocating opposing hitters. In fact, in his 27 starts this year, Kluber has reached 10 or more strikeouts 14 times, just over half of the games he’s pitched. Corey Kluber has been the definition of lights out. What’s more promising for the Tribe are Kluber’s numbers at Progressive Field. Seriously, Kluber isn’t a real person, the guy just isn’t human. Why do I say that? Corey Kluber averages 12.9 Ks a game, a .793 WHIP, and opposing batters are hitting .172 against Kluber at home. Corey Kluber is a slow and painful death for the guys in the other dugout. Welcome to Cleveland, we apologize for Corey Kluber’s actions.
On the other side of the ball, the talents of José Ramirez have come to light. Ramirez has been a solid staple of the Tribe’s offense, holding a .316 average all the while leading the team in hits, doubles, and triples. Following right behind him is Cleveland’s Shortstop Francisco Lindor, whose smile isn’t the only thing lighting up Progressive Field, his bat also does a fine job! To say that Lindor and Ramirez are close in stats is an understatement, they’re downright identical, and it’s paid off for the Tribe!
All of these things are just a smattering of successes that Cleveland has found in 2017. However, where there’s prolonged success, we also find hidden failures. While the Indians are known for their prowess at the plate, did you know that they are significantly worse against teams above .500? Believe it! Against teams below .500, the Tribe is hitting .269, with an OPS .797. TO be more specific, Cleveland has 224 Doubles, 22 Triples, and 122 Home Runs. Against teams above .500? Aside from hitting .251, the Tribe has amassed 83 Doubles, 5 Triples, and 75 Home Runs. Those two sets of numbers are very different, and while the Indians have played 100 games against teams below .500 and only 49 games against +.500 opponents, these numbers still remain disparagingly different. In fact, during their 22 game streak, the Tribe only played 4 games against teams above .500. Coincidence? Possibly. So how does the Tribe’s offense stack up against the other potential playoff teams?
It’s a solid toss-up, to be perfectly honest. The Tribe hits very well against the Red Sox slashing .251/.332/.455 with an OPS of .787. Against the Houston Astros, Cleveland hits even better, falling in at .262/.339/.492 with an OPS of .892. Not terrible considering that how hot the Sox and Astros offenses have been as of late, but it’s within the early rounds that I have an issue. Against the New York Yankees, the team the Tribe will likely face in the first round of the postseason, Cleveland batters are hitting .210/.275/.389 and a measly OPS of .664. That’s my issue. When you stack this Indians offense against good solid baseball teams they falter, something they’re not too familiar with lately. How do you stop a playoff skid when you haven’t had one in over a month? That’s the question that Cleveland will need to answer.
The other question that needs addressing is the Postseason rotation. With Kluber as the #1, the other 3 spots fall to Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and… Josh Tomlin/Mike Clevinger/Danny Salazar? Let’s break this down slowly.
Kluber is your Game 1 LOCK. Easy. No-brainer. In a 5 game series, Kluber can pitch Game 1 and Games 4 or 5, if needed. However, if Games 4 or 5 are in fact needed in the ALDS, the Tribe has bigger issues. In a 7 game series, Kluber throws Game 1 again and then games 4 or 7, as needed. Kluber is going to be the shutdown, get a W, blow them away kind of pitcher this postseason for the Tribe. He’s Randy Johnson in 2001, he’s Madison Bumgarner in ANY playoff year. He’s gotta be the guy for the Tribe.
It’s after Kluber that things get dicey. Carlos Carrasco is the clear #2, but the guy has never pitched in the Postseason and once again, we have an issue against good teams. The difference between Carlos Carrasco pitching against a viable playoff contender and a team under .500 is a full 2.50 runs in his ERA, +.450 to his WHIP and against the AL Playoff teams he only has an ERA south of 7.50 against one team, the Minnesota Twins. That’s not the kind of guy I can trust going into the postseason.
Trevor Bauer doesn’t instill that much confidence in me either, considering how each time he takes the mound there’s a bit of doubt that he’s gonna get blown up. Can you trust Trevor Bauer in a playoff game? Because last year, we couldn’t trust him to not get chopped up by a drone in the postseason. So if you think I’m going to be able to lend my trust to Trevor Bauer in a Game 3 situation, you better think again. Credit where credit is due, Bauer is 10-3 against teams above .500, with an ERA of 3.77, but while he does rise to the occasion, the question is which Trevor Bauer will show up in October? Because the guy who showed up last year has a 5.27 ERA in the postseason, and he was a stronger starter in 2016.
The fact of the matter is this; the Cleveland Indians have had a very easy walk to the AL Central Title. In their 150 games this season, the Cleveland Indians are just 28-21 against teams over .500. So that means 49 of their 150games have been against weaker teams, so two-thirds of their games have been seen them as the top dog. Whereas the 2016 Cleveland Indians were 48-44 against teams over .500, which is over 50% of their games. So the 2017 Cleveland Indians have yet to face serious adversity, but in two weeks it’s going to be staring them right in the face. I have doubts as to whether or not they can handle it.
Do I think there’s a chance I’m wrong? FOR SURE. In fact, recent history proves me wrong. Since the since 2010, of 9 teams who have played in the World Series 4 of them have made repeat appearances, and of those 4, two of them were back to back (the Rangers in ’10 and 11, Royals in ’14-’15). So it’s not out of the question that this team can’t make it happen. I just think it’s possible that we’ve been swept up in the honeymoon and romance of the sweep and have forgotten about how difficult the road ahead is for Cleveland. I’m just trying to be reasonable.
But then again a team did just win 22 games in a row for the first time since 1935, so maybe reason goes out the window.