Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
The Official Site of the Cleveland Indians
news

Indians News

Kipnis clubs walk-off slam for 1,000th hit

Indians rally in 9th after Carrasco logs 11 K's in no-decision
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis strolled up the first-base line, admiring his shot to the right-field seats as the Progressive Field crowd roared. In the on-deck circle, Francisco Lindor threw his bat high into the air, kicked his legs in celebration and ran onto the field like a little kid.

For most of Wednesday night, the Indians' offense was silent. Kipnis put an end to that with a walk-off grand slam off Ian Hamilton to give the Tribe a 4-1 victory over the White Sox. It marked the fifth walk-off win of the year for the American League Central champions and set off an on-field party that Cleveland hopes is a teaser for October.

View Full Game Coverage

CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis strolled up the first-base line, admiring his shot to the right-field seats as the Progressive Field crowd roared. In the on-deck circle, Francisco Lindor threw his bat high into the air, kicked his legs in celebration and ran onto the field like a little kid.

For most of Wednesday night, the Indians' offense was silent. Kipnis put an end to that with a walk-off grand slam off Ian Hamilton to give the Tribe a 4-1 victory over the White Sox. It marked the fifth walk-off win of the year for the American League Central champions and set off an on-field party that Cleveland hopes is a teaser for October.

View Full Game Coverage

"Couldn't draw it up much better than that one," Kipnis said. "That felt good."

Video: CWS@CLE: Francona, Carrasco on win against White Sox

Seven years ago, Kipnis' first career hit for the Indians was a walk-off single against the Angels. Carlos Santana scored the winning run and Austin Kearns and Travis Buck were the first to greet Kipnis on the infield with celebratory jabs in that one. Last month, Kipnis recorded an inside-the-park homer for his 100th career round-tripper.

As the ninth inning took shape for the Indians -- Josh Donaldson beat out an infield hit, Yandy Diaz singled and Yan Gomes was hit by a pitch -- Kipnis thought ahead to another milestone. He was sitting on 999 career hits when he walked to the plate with one out and the bases loaded.

"There's just something going on with these round numbers," Kipnis said. "Going into the ninth inning, I thought, 'Wouldn't this be a way to get the 1,000th?' As it turned out, I got closer and closer to the on-deck circle and home plate. The thought would keep creeping into my head and actually gave me a little more confidence. I was like, 'It's meant to be.'

"It's weird what belief can do in these situations. I was like, 'It's going to happen, I know it's going to happen.'"

Hamilton worked the count full against Kipnis, who swung through a changeup in the heart of the zone on the second pitch of their battle. For the 3-2 pitch, the White Sox righty returned to the offspeed offering, sending one over the middle again. This time, Kipnis made the most of what was now a mistake pitch.

The result was a no-doubter and Kipnis' teammates celebrated accordingly, pouring from the dugout and forming a mob around the plate. After launching his bat high in the air, Lindor looked up and quickly recalled that gravity would return the spiraling lumber back to earth.

"I didn't know what to do. I was just freaking out," Lindor said with a laugh. "I threw it really high and I stood there with my hands up, and then I looked up and was like, 'Oh, [no]. Where am I going to go now?' It was a scary moment for a second."

Lindor sprinted to Rajai Davis, who was jogging home from third base, and began jumping and high-fiving him several steps ahead of the plate.

"That was a first," Davis chuckled.

As he closed in on the chaotic crowd of players, Kipnis spiked his helmet on the ground, let out a howl and high-fived Lindor with both hands. He then disappeared in the pile, while being doused with water and having his jersey tugged in all directions. Kipnis emerged from the pack and Lindor found him again, embracing him in a hug.

"That's a fun feeling," Kipnis said.

The game-winning jack took Indians starter Carlos Carrasco off the hook following 6 2/3 overpowering innings. The big right-hander piled up 11 strikeouts, walked one and made just one mistake. In the sixth, Daniel Palka crushed a low fastball out to center for a solo homer.

For eight innings, it looked like that might be enough to even the series. The primary issue was White Sox starter Dylan Covey, who stifled the Indians over six shutout innings before turning it over to the bullpen.

"It's one of those games where you hope one mistake didn't cost you a game," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Because, that's all [Carrasco] really did."

Kipnis took care of that, providing another positive moment within what has been a trying season for the veteran.

His early-season offensive woes led to being removed from the No. 2 spot in the lineup. He now has a consistent home in the lower-third. The Aug. 31 acquisition of Donaldson forced Jose Ramirez to move to second, pushing Kipnis -- a long-time second baseman -- to center field, where he is adjusting on the fly.

Video: CWS@CLE: Kipnis on walk-off slam, 1,000th career hit

Throughout all the turbulence, Kipnis has remained focused on doing what is asked of him and preparing for the postseason.

"It doesn't matter what you do in the regular season," Lindor said. "If you go up in the postseason and you step up, and you help your team win, you're going to be remembered. People are going to remember you."

Dating to Aug. 26, when Kipnis implemented a mechanical adjustment involving his hands, he has hit .317/.405/.683 with six homers, five doubles, 23 RBIs and as many walks (eight) as strikeouts in 19 games. That stretch began with the game that included his milestone inside-the-park homer.

Kipnis certainly made the most of his 1,000th career hit.

"I'm still feeling good. I'm still feeling confident," Kipnis said. "This game is a metaphor for my season, too. I look for my openings, and where I can contribute and help out. It's up to me whether I can stay ready for it."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Donaldson's dribbler: The ninth inning began with Donaldson hitting a slow roller in front of the plate, where reliever Juan Minaya fielded the ball and fired it to first. Donaldson narrowly beat the throw, stepping on the bag as the ball was arriving into first baseman Matt Davidson's glove. The White Sox challenged, but the safe call stood, giving the Indians a critical baserunner for the game-winning push.

Video: CWS@CLE: Donaldson's infield single stands in 9th

"That's just the fun part of the game, you know?" Davis said. "Never giving up to the last out. Obviously, Donaldson set that up. I think that made up for all the hard-hit outs he's had. They made a nice play on him earlier in the game, but he got that nice infield hit at the right time and set the situation up."

Diaz finds the hole: After Donaldson reached in the ninth, he was replaced on the bases by the fleet-footed Davis. On a 2-1 pitch to Diaz, Davis broke for second base, forcing shortstop Tim Anderson to break for the bag. Diaz swung and sent a grounder through the hole created by Anderson's shift. Instead of a potential double-play ball, Diaz singled and the rally remained alive.

Video: CWS@CLE: Diaz singles as Anderson breaks for bag

"Pitchers, they're going to pitch a little bit under pressure, a little bit more stress," Davis said. "Yandy was able to put the bat on the ball and I was breaking at the time. Somebody's got to cover. It worked out for us. I'm thankful."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Playing in back-to-back games for the first time since coming off the DL, Donaldson made a pair of impressive defensive plays at third. The first was a sliding back-handed grab on a grounder from Ryan Cordell in the third inning and firing a strong throw across the diamond. Cordell was robbed again in the seventh, when Donaldson lunged to his right to snare another grounder before again firing to first for a highlight-reel out.

Video: CWS@CLE: Donaldson flashes the leather against Sox

SOUND SMART
For Carrasco, this was his career-best seventh outing of the season with at least 10 strikeouts and the club's 29th individual double-digit strikeout performance, which leads the Major Leagues. It's the most in a single season in the Majors since 2002, when the D-backs had 30.

Video: CWS@CLE: Carrasco allows 1 run, K's 11 in 6 2/3

Kipnis is the 37th player in Indians history to reach 1,000 career hits with the franchise. He is the only player in club history to have at least 100 home runs, 100 steals and 1,000 hits. Kipnis and Davey Lopes (Sept. 2, 1979) are the only players in MLB history to hit a walk-off slam for their 1,000th career hit.

UP NEXT
Indians right-hander Josh Tomlin (1-5, 6.59 ERA) is scheduled to start the series finale against the White Sox at 7:10 p.m. ET on Thursday at Progressive Field. Tomlin has a 4.22 ERA in six appearances since coming off the disabled list. Chicago will counter with righty James Shields (7-16, 4.53 ERA).

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Kipnis

Bauer set to be activated from DL on Friday

Righty's return may put Bieber in bullpen role; Edwin back in lineup
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- The Indians want Trevor Bauer in their postseason rotation. In order to do that, the team has worked with the pitcher on mapping out a schedule that will allow him to make three abbreviated starts before the end of the regular season.

That process will begin on Friday, when Bauer is activated from the disabled list in order to start and log a couple of innings against the Red Sox. Barring any setbacks, the Indians pitcher -- sidelined since mid-August due to a stress fracture in his right fibula -- would start again on Tuesday (at White Sox) and potentially on Sept. 30 (at Royals) in preparation for the American League Division Series.

View Full Game Coverage

CLEVELAND -- The Indians want Trevor Bauer in their postseason rotation. In order to do that, the team has worked with the pitcher on mapping out a schedule that will allow him to make three abbreviated starts before the end of the regular season.

That process will begin on Friday, when Bauer is activated from the disabled list in order to start and log a couple of innings against the Red Sox. Barring any setbacks, the Indians pitcher -- sidelined since mid-August due to a stress fracture in his right fibula -- would start again on Tuesday (at White Sox) and potentially on Sept. 30 (at Royals) in preparation for the American League Division Series.

View Full Game Coverage

"Getting [Bauer] back is great," manager Terry Francona said prior to Wednesday's game against the White Sox at Progressive Field. "His goal, and ours, is to see if he can start. But if he can't, having him in the bullpen is still really positive. We asked him for his honesty on how he is feeling, and we'll give him our feedback. But this was the best way to do it."

Bauer was in the midst of the AL Cy Young Award conversation when his season was stalled by a Jose Abreu comebacker on Aug. 11 in Chicago. Through 25 starts before the injury, the right-hander went 12-6 with a 2.22 ERA and 214 strikeouts against 56 walks in 166 innings. In terms of WAR, Bauer is still tied for first in the AL via Fangraphs (6.0) and ranks fourth in the AL via Baseball Reference (5.6).

Bauer logged 40 pitches in two simulated innings off Progressive Field's main mound before Saturday's game, giving the team a chance to collect data about his delivery and pitches. Bauer followed that up with three simulated innings (roughly 60 pitches) against hitters on Tuesday.

That led to Wednesday's meetings to determine the next step for the All-Star pitcher. Francona said Bauer's rehab work and throwing program over the past month helped put him in a spot where he can now start ramping back up for a place on Cleveland's postseason roster.

"[Bauer]'s got himself in a position where he's jumping right into games," Francona said. "You don't have to worry about his arm. He's given himself every chance possible by the way he attacked his rehab."

Worth noting

• Rookie right-hander Shane Bieber will move to the bullpen, and the plan is to have him come out of the bullpen after Bauer on Friday. If Bauer works his way back into the playoff rotation, Bieber would likely assume a relief role. If that is the case, Francona likes Bieber's ability to consistently throw strikes, stay poised and log multi-inning outings.

"[Bieber]'s not being 'relegated' to the bullpen," Francona said. "He'd be going there to help us win."

• Bauer's return also impacts the schedule of right-hander Mike Clevinger. Francona said he and pitching coach Carl Willis gave Clevinger the option of following Bauer out of the bullpen on Friday or starting on Saturday. Clevinger opted to take the ball Saturday, meaning he will be working on six days of rest. Righty Adam Plutko will then start in Sunday's finale against Boston.

"We gave him the choice," Francona said of Clevinger. "He feels like he's in such a good spot in his routines"

• Third baseman Josh Donaldson was in Wednesday's starting lineup against the White Sox, marking his first back-to-back starts since May. Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion was also back in the lineup, following three days of rest for a mild right ankle injury.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Trevor Bauer

Kluber notches 11 K's in career-high 19th win

Indians ace joins Bauer, Carrasco with 200 strikeouts in '18
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- There is only one goal on the mind of Corey Kluber right now. With the American League Central title already wrapped up for the Indians, their ace will use the remainder of the regular season as preparation for the postseason.

On Tuesday night, Kluber began that process against the White Sox and turned in a strong performance in guiding his club to a 5-3 victory at Progressive Field. The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner -- in contention for a third this year -- piled up 11 strikeouts and earned a career-best 19th win.

View Full Game Coverage

CLEVELAND -- There is only one goal on the mind of Corey Kluber right now. With the American League Central title already wrapped up for the Indians, their ace will use the remainder of the regular season as preparation for the postseason.

On Tuesday night, Kluber began that process against the White Sox and turned in a strong performance in guiding his club to a 5-3 victory at Progressive Field. The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner -- in contention for a third this year -- piled up 11 strikeouts and earned a career-best 19th win.

View Full Game Coverage

"To me, it makes the most sense to still try to stay in that competitive frame of mind," Kluber said. "I don't want to go out there and feel like it's Spring Training or something like that, just because we've already clinched. I think the best way to stay locked in is to kind of keep your foot on the gas, so to speak."

Kluber was working on seven days' rest, which is unusual, especially for a pitcher who is such a creature of routine. That approach by the Indians was with October in mind, though. Kluber has requested an extra day of rest before a Game 1 start in the AL Division Series on Oct. 5, so the Tribe adjusted his schedule accordingly.

Video: CWS@CLE: Indians discuss 5-3 victory over White Sox

The extra rest appeared to do Kluber wonders out of the chute, considering he breezed through the first six batters he faced on 12 pitches. Chicago's lineup went 3-for-18 against him through five shutout innings, during which an ultra-aggressive approach worked in the pitcher's favor.

Overall, Kluber (19-7, 2.93 ERA) generated 24 swings and misses in the win, according to Statcast™. That's his most in an outing since Aug. 8, 2017, when he had 26 against the Rockies.

"Early on ... they were trying to hit the first straight one they saw," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He's getting that feel for his breaking ball back and it gets exciting."

The White Sox finally broke through in the sixth.

Daniel Palka and Omar Narvaez each connected for solo homers off Kluber in the frame, and Yolmer Sanchez added an RBI double in the seventh. Those setbacks did not deter Kluber, who dodged a couple more baserunners in order to complete eight innings. He scattered eight hits and walked two in the win.

Video: CWS@CLE: Miller induces groundout to earn 2nd save

Andrew Miller struck out three in the ninth to pick up the save.

"I'm happy Kluber got the win," Miller said.

The Tribe struck for five runs in White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon's seven innings. Melky Cabrera (RBI double) and Yan Gomes (RBI single) came through in the second and Jason Kipnis highlighted a three-run fifth with his 16th home run of the season.

Video: CWS@CLE: Kipnis slugs a solo homer to right field

That production put Kluber on a path to win No. 19, which surpassed his previous best of 18 (achieved in 2014, '16 and '17). Kluber, who joined Rays lefty Blake Snell atop the AL leaderboard for wins this season, is the first Indians pitcher to reach 19 since Cliff Lee went 22-3 in 2008.

With his effort, Kluber also eclipsed 200 innings and 200 strikeouts to become the first pitcher in Indians history to do so in five consecutive seasons. He is only the 40th pitcher in history to meet those benchmarks in at least five years.

"It's just being able to stay healthy and make starts and log innings," Kluber said. "Hopefully, that results in giving the team a chance to win. I'm not concerned with what specific statistics are. It's just being able to be reliable and take the ball when it's your turn."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Pain, then gain: Tribe fans held their collective breath in the fifth inning, when Jose Ramirez recoiled in pain after being hit on the left arm by a 94.7-mph fastball from Rodon. Ramirez was quickly examined and he opted to stay in the game. The AL MVP Award candidate promptly stole second (his 33rd theft of the season) and he then scored on the back end of a two-run single by Yandy Diaz to give the Indians a 5-2 lead.

Video: CWS@CLE: Ramirez gets hit by a pitch, stays in game

"Fortunately, it got him above the elbow," Francona said. "But, it got him pretty good."

The scare certainly didn't slow Ramirez down.

Video: CWS@CLE: Diaz rips a 2-run single into right-center

"It never will," Francona said with a smile.

Donaldson's sprint: Josh Donaldson drew a one-out walk in the second and then passed another test in his return from a left calf injury. Cabrera followed by ripping a pitch into the left-field corner, where the ball slipped under the glove of outfielder Ryan LaMarre. Third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh waved Donaldson home and he hustled the remaining 90 feet to score the first run of the night.

Video: CWS@CLE: Cabrera opens scoring with RBI double

"We knew that he had worked really hard," Francona said. "We just try to use common sense and not overdo it too quick. Everybody wants, myself included, you want to see him play, but I think we've tried to manage it pretty well. Pretty soon, we'll be able to turn him loose."

SOUND SMART
Trevor Bauer (214 strikeouts), Carlos Carrasco (206) and Kluber (205) are the first trio in Indians history to have at least 200 strikeouts in the same season. Cleveland is the fourth team to accomplish that, joining the 2013 Tigers, 1969 Astros and 1967 Twins. If Mike Clevinger (196) reaches 200 punchouts, the Indians will be the first team in MLB history to have four pitchers reach that milestone in the same campaign.

Rajai Davis' stolen base in the eighth inning gave him 20 on the season, giving the Indians three players (Lindor, 23; Ramirez, 33) with at least 20 steals this year. They are the first Indians trio to achieve that feat since 2000, when Roberto Alomar, Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel each stole at least 20 bags.

Video: CWS@CLE: Davis steals second base, advances to third

UP NEXT
Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco (16-8, 3.41 ERA) is slated to start at 7:10 p.m. ET on Wednesday against the White Sox at Progressive Field. In two starts against Chicago this season, Carrasco is 2-0 with 20 strikeouts and one walk in 14 shutout innings. The Sox counter with righty Dylan Covey (5-13, 5.64 ERA).

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Corey Kluber

Inbox: Who will make Tribe's postseason staff?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from Indians fans
MLB.com @MLBastian

What do you think the Indians' pitching staff will look like in the playoffs?
-- @tmtribefan

Manager Terry Francona made it known last week that his preference will be to go with a four-man rotation. I think that will remain the case whether Trevor Bauer is deemed ready to return as a starter or winds up in a multi-inning relief role for the American League Division Series.

What do you think the Indians' pitching staff will look like in the playoffs?
-- @tmtribefan

Manager Terry Francona made it known last week that his preference will be to go with a four-man rotation. I think that will remain the case whether Trevor Bauer is deemed ready to return as a starter or winds up in a multi-inning relief role for the American League Division Series.

Corey Kluber is having his schedule worked out to align him for a Game 1 start in the ALDS, which begins on Oct. 5. Barring anything unexpected, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger would assume two more starting roles. That leaves the fourth spot to either Bauer or rookie Shane Bieber.

As things stand, I think both Bauer and Bieber will be on the ALDS roster in some capacity. Bauer logged 40 pitches in a mound session on Sunday, so there's a chance he can build up in time to rejoin the rotation. At the very least, he would be an intriguing weapon out of the bullpen given his durability. If Bieber gets the fourth spot, Cleveland could turn to Bauer at the first sign of trouble.

:: Submit a question to the Indians Inbox ::

If it turns out that Bauer is ready for a regular rotation role, then Bieber would probably figure into the bullpen mix. He throws strikes and can handle multiple innings. That is valuable, especially given the uncertainty hanging over Bauer's situation at the moment.

Last October, Francona went with a seven-man bullpen, and I have a hunch that will remain the case this year. Bauer or Bieber will take one spot. Then there are four virtual locks in Andrew Miller, Brad Hand, Cody Allen and Oliver Perez. That leaves two spots up for grabs, and there are a number of ways Cleveland could go with those vacancies.

The way I see it, right-handers Adam Cimber and Dan Otero lead the pack, given their ability to handle righty hitters (.610 OPS for Cimber and .698 OPS for Otero this year) and generate grounders. Behind them on the bubble are righty Neil Ramirez and lefty Tyler Olson. The other candidate would be veteran righty Josh Tomlin, who -- like Bieber -- throws strikes and can handle multiple innings, though he doesn't throw as hard and is prone to home runs.

Tweet from @DreamingBasebll: Do you think Greg Allen has performed well enough to guarantee himself a playoff roster spot over Rajai Davis? #IndiansInbox

This will be an interesting decision for the Indians, who would have five bench spots up for grabs under the 11-man pitching staff scenario detailed in the previous question. Backup catcher Roberto Perez gets one spot and Brandon Guyer (a versus-lefty corner outfielder who can play center if needed) is a safe bet for one of the other available jobs.

That leaves utility man Erik Gonzalez, corner infielder Yandy Diaz and center fielders Greg Allen and Rajai Davis battling for three spots. Diaz offers a good right-handed complement to Yonder Alonso at first base. Gonzalez offers depth and plus defense at all four infield spots. Allen and Davis offer similar skill sets: An ability to play all three outfield spots and plus speed on the bases.

If the Indians decide that they want to carry both Gonzalez and Diaz, then I do think Allen has performed well enough to get the last spot over Davis. With Jason Kipnis playing center, Cleveland will probably look to upgrade the defense in the later innings. Both Davis and Allen can do that, but I'd give Allen the edge. That said, both could make the roster if the Indians prioritize speed and defense, meaning one of Gonzalez or Diaz would be left off.

Tweet from @ryanhempel7: Should Cleveland trade Kipnis at the end of the year and try to keep Donaldson? @MLBastian

The Indians acquired Josh Donaldson with this stretch run and the postseason in mind. It seems highly improbable that Cleveland will be a player for him in free agency this offseason unless the market plays out similarly to when Edwin Encarnacion slipped into the Tribe's operating range. It's more likely that Diaz will get his shot as the third baseman next year.

That said, I do think the Indians will explore the market for Kipnis, who was nearly traded last winter. That probably won't be an easy task, though. Kipnis' future position is now uncertain (will teams view him as a second baseman or an outfielder?) and he's hit .229 with a .697 OPS and 84 OPS+ (16 percent below league average) over the past two seasons combined. Kipnis is also set to earn $14.7 million in 2019, with a $16.5 million salary (or $2.5 million buyout) in '20.

Tweet from @colon_soler: What���s the ERA of Cimber, Oliver Perez, Hand, Allen and Miller since August? I asked these because these is the bullpen I visualized on October and I have seen them improving lately. Please correct me if I���m wrong #IndiansInbox

Dating back to the start of August, those five relievers have combined for a 2.96 ERA (25 earned runs in 76 innings). Overall in that time period, the Indians' bullpen has turned in a 3.61 ERA, which ranks fifth in the AL and seventh in the Majors in that span. That's a dramatic improvement over the first four months, in which Cleveland had a 5.00 ERA from its relievers.

Tweet from @bookelly73: Any chance we get Chiz or Naquin back in time to get meaningful postseason playing time?#IndiansInbox

At this point, it's really hard to envision a scenario in which either Lonnie Chisenhall (rehabbing a calf injury) or Tyler Naquin (rehabbing from hip surgery) could work their way back into the postseason mix this year. The Minor League season is over, making it difficult to get at-bats, and there has been no indication that either outfielder is near being set for that step anyway. It looks like both players are probably prepping for 2019.

Tweet from @berkeyeric: How will Oscar Mercado figure into the OF mix next year? #IndiansInbox

I don't see Oscar Mercado working into the Opening Day mix next year, but the 23-year-old center field prospect -- acquired from the Cardinals prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline and ranked No. 14 on the Indians' Top 30 list -- will definitely be on the radar. Looking ahead, though, Leonys Martin will be under team control and both Allen and Naquin will be back. Kipnis could also be in the outfield mix, and Bradley Zimmer (shoulder surgery) might be back by midseason.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians

30 breakout performers -- 1 for each team

Whether rookies or players who finally turned the corner, a look at the season's breakthrough performances
MLB.com @williamfleitch

Of the hundreds of great Albert Pujols factoids, here's my favorite one: He only made the Cardinals' roster in 2001, his rookie season, because Bobby Bonilla had a Spring Training injury, opening up a roster spot. All Pujols did that year was hit .329/.403/.610, win the National League Rookie of the Year Award and, of course, begin a career that'll finish in Cooperstown. It was his breakthrough year, and it was undeniable.

You can't expect everyone -- or anyone -- to have a breakthrough like Pujols did. But when a breakthrough happens, you can't miss it. Today we take a look at players on each team who, in 2018, had the breakthrough year that augurs great things for the future. Some of them are rookies, some of them just finally turned the corner, but all of them are players we'll be talking about for years to come. And this was the year they got it all started.

Of the hundreds of great Albert Pujols factoids, here's my favorite one: He only made the Cardinals' roster in 2001, his rookie season, because Bobby Bonilla had a Spring Training injury, opening up a roster spot. All Pujols did that year was hit .329/.403/.610, win the National League Rookie of the Year Award and, of course, begin a career that'll finish in Cooperstown. It was his breakthrough year, and it was undeniable.

You can't expect everyone -- or anyone -- to have a breakthrough like Pujols did. But when a breakthrough happens, you can't miss it. Today we take a look at players on each team who, in 2018, had the breakthrough year that augurs great things for the future. Some of them are rookies, some of them just finally turned the corner, but all of them are players we'll be talking about for years to come. And this was the year they got it all started.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Blue Jays: Teoscar Hernandez, OF
Key stat: 20 homers

The strikeouts are a little higher than you'd like, but for a guy who didn't make the Opening Day roster, the power has been a revelation for the Blue Jays.

Video: CLE@TOR: Hernandez crushes a 3-run home run to center

Orioles: Tanner Scott
Key stat: 12.9 K/9

It has been the sort of year in Baltimore that a middle reliever with a high strikeout rate is your breakthrough player … but a 23-year-old with that strikeout rate shouldn't be ignored.

Video: BAL@TEX: Scott K's Guzman with the bases loaded

Rays: Blake Snell
Key stat: 2.03 ERA, 19 wins

This was the year the Rays were waiting for from Snell. Maybe he's the only starter they need!

Video: CLE@TB: Snell gets Diaz, takes no-hitter to 7th

Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts
Key stat: .288/.359/.519

Remember, Bogaerts was a below-average hitter last year. With all the homers at Fenway this year, it's easy to miss that he has more than doubled his total from 2017.

Video: HOU@BOS: Bogaerts clubs a solo homer over the Monster

Yankees: Aaron Hicks
Key stat: 4.1 WAR (Baseball Reference)

With all the injury problems the Yankees have, Hicks is proving that he can be a near-star-level player. 

Video: TOR@NYY: Hicks opens the scoring with RBI single

AL CENTRAL

Indians: Jose Ramirez
Key stat: .282/.396/.578

Sure, Ramirez was terrific last year too, but by converting those doubles into homers, he has turned into the AL Most Valuable Player Award candidate no one saw coming.

Video: Ramirez makes history, joins the exclusive 30-30 club

Royals: Brad Keller
Key stat: 3.04 ERA

Keller had a 4.68 ERA in Double-A Jackson last year, but he has been the Royals' best pitcher this year. He just turned 23 years old as well.

Video: CWS@KC: Keller twirls 7 strong innings in win

Tigers: Niko Goodrum
Key stat: 16 homers

Goodrum was 1-for-17 in 2017 with Minnesota and never hit more than 13 homers in eight years in the Minors. He may end up leading the Tigers in homers this year.

Video: DET@CWS: Goodrum clubs a game-tying solo HR in 7th

Twins: Jose Berrios
Key stat: 3.81 ERA, tied for league lead in complete games and shutouts

Berrios will end up adding about 50 innings to his 2017 total, which gets him closer to being the ace the Twins have been waiting on. He's still 24.

Video: MIN@KC: Berrios strikes out 9 over 6 strong innings

White Sox: Carlos Rodon
Key stat: 3.10 ERA

Rodon's strikeout rate has dropped, but everything else has been golden for him this year, and he looks like a rotation mainstay moving forward.

Video: CWS@KC: Rodon lets up 2 runs, K's 5 over 6 innings

AL WEST

Angels: Shohei Ohtani
Key stat: .370 OBP, 3.31 ERA

The injury is (obviously) a bummer, but seriously, once it heals, it looks like Ohtani really might be able to both pitch and hit in this league, and at high levels.

Video: Must C Combo: Trout, Ohtani smash back-to-back homers

Astros: Alex Bregman
Key stats: .294/.401/.551

Bregman has unquestionably been the best position player on a team full of great ones.

Video: Bregman has 30 homer, 50 double, 100 RBI season

Athletics: Matt Chapman
Key stat: 8.1 WAR (Baseball Reference)

We all knew Chapman could play defense like no one else on earth. But he has raised both his OBP and SLG 50 points from his rookie year. Look out.

Video: OAK@TB: Chapman clubs solo homer off Romo 434 feet

Mariners: Edwin Diaz
Key stat: 55 saves

The Mariners have relied on Diaz more than any team has relied on any reliever, and he has responded nearly every time.

Video: SEA@LAA: Diaz induces flyout, notches his 55th save

Rangers: Jose Leclerc
Key stat: 13.8 K/9

Leclerc has always been able to strike guys out, but he dropped his walk rate in half this year.

Video: TEX@SD: Leclerc whiffs Reyes to earn his 11th save

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Braves: Ronald Acuna Jr.
Key stat: .292/.368/.574

Remember when Acuna was struggling? He looks like he'll be ready to compete for the NL MVP Award as soon as next year. Acuna won't be able to buy his first drink until December.

Video: WSH@ATL: Acuna records 1st career 4-hit game in win

Marlins: Brian Anderson
Key stat: .270/.353/.395

If Anderson's competition consisted of mere mortals instead of some absolute studs this year, he'd be a legitimate NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate.

Video: MIA@NYM: Anderson lines an RBI triple to right field

Mets: Jacob deGrom
Key stat: 1.78 ERA

It's possible that deGrom may be what we remember most from this season.

Video: NYM@BOS: deGrom fans Betts for his 10th K through 5

Nationals: Juan Soto
Key stat: .305/.421/.532

It's easy not to fret about your former superstar teenager possibly leaving when you have another one that just shows up on your roster.

Video: WSH@ATL: Soto knocks in Harper on 9th inning single

Phillies: Aaron Nola
Key stat: 16-5, 2.42 ERA

The Phillies have been excited about Nola for a while. But even they didn't see this coming.

Video: WSH@PHI: Nola K's Rendon to end the frame

NL CENTRAL

Brewers: Christian Yelich
Key stat: .313/.381/.556

Yelich is not only having a better year than Marcell Ozuna, he's having a better year than Giancarlo Stanton.

Video: PIT@MIL: Yelich crushes his 30th homer of the season

Cardinals: Jack Flaherty
2.86 ERA

The Cards have had a few of these guys -- from Miles Mikolas to Harrison Bader to Yairo Munoz -- but we'll go with the guy who would start the NL Wild Card Game.

Video: LAD@STL: Flaherty whiffs 8 Dodgers, allows just 1 run

Cubs: Javier Baez
Key stat: .294/.328/.563

The batting average and on-base percentage are about what you'd expect from Baez, but that slugging leads the NL.

Video: Must C Combo: Baez homers, executes key bunt in win

Pirates: Trevor Williams
Key stat: 1.19 second-half ERA

If the real Williams is anything close to this, with Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer, the Pirates have quite a threesome in the rotation moving forward.

Video: PIT@MIL: Williams tosses 6 scoreless vs. Brewers

Reds: Eugenio Suarez
Key stat: 101 RBIs

No Red has led the NL in RBIs since Dave Parker in 1985, and Suarez is right there with Trevor Story and Baez for the top spot.

Video: LAD@CIN: Suarez belts a solo home run to right

NL WEST

D-backs: Patrick Corbin
Key stat: 11-5, 3.05 ERA

The pending free agent has picked an excellent year to have his career season.

Video: ARI@COL: Corbin gets Blackmon swinging

Dodgers: Max Muncy
Key stat: .258/.389/.577

Muncy has cooled down a little bit in the second half, but of all the players to lead the Dodgers in homers this year, this guy would have been pretty far down everybody's list in the preseason.

Video: NYM@LAD: Muncy hits towering 2-run homer to center

Giants: Dereck Rodriguez
Key stat: 2.30 ERA

The Giants are almost too old to have too many breakthrough players, but Rodriguez has actually been the team's leader in WAR (Baseball Reference) this year.

Video: COL@SF: Rodriguez K's 5 over 6 strong frames vs. Rox

Padres: Franmil Reyes
Key stat: .848 OPS

The numbers are better than many realize, but the real joy of Reyes is bringing something unique and exciting to a franchise that could use it.

Video: SD@ARI: Reyes smashes a 3-run homer to right-center

Rockies: Kyle Freeland
Key stat: 15-7, 2.96 ERA

According to Baseball Reference WAR, Freeland is having the second-best season by a Rockies pitcher in franchise history … and he's got a real chance to chase down 2010 Ubaldo Jimenez by season's end.

Video: ARI@COL: Freeland K's Jay, the side in the 3rd

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

Bieber takes loss in bid for postseason roster

Righty allows 4 runs on 5 hits in 5th inning; Haase gets 1st MLB hit, RBI
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- When this season began and Shane Bieber was fitted for his uniform with Double-A Akron, the pitcher could not have predicted he would be in the position he is now with two weeks left in the regular season.

Bieber was drenched in champagne on Saturday night, when the Indians celebrated their third consecutive American League Central title at Progressive Field. In a 6-4 loss to the Tigers on Sunday afternoon, Bieber was not at his best, but the rookie right-hander has found a home in the Tribe's rotation and is very much in the mix for a spot on the playoff roster.

View Full Game Coverage

CLEVELAND -- When this season began and Shane Bieber was fitted for his uniform with Double-A Akron, the pitcher could not have predicted he would be in the position he is now with two weeks left in the regular season.

Bieber was drenched in champagne on Saturday night, when the Indians celebrated their third consecutive American League Central title at Progressive Field. In a 6-4 loss to the Tigers on Sunday afternoon, Bieber was not at his best, but the rookie right-hander has found a home in the Tribe's rotation and is very much in the mix for a spot on the playoff roster.

View Full Game Coverage

"I hoped for it. I could envision it," Bieber said of being with the Indians for this stretch run. "But, if you ask me if I expected it, I don't know that I can say that, because so many things have to line up."

In the midst of Saturday's party, bench coach Brad Mills posted the lineup for Sunday's finale against Detroit on one of the locker room's soaked walls. Cleveland's AL MVP candidates, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, were out of the lineup, along with regulars like Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion and more.

Get new AL Central title gear

Cleveland's post-clinch lineup looked more like one that might have been featured this season by Triple-A Columbus, where Bieber made eight starts this season after cruising against Double-A competition. The lone everyday player in the local nine was slugger Josh Donaldson, who is returning from injury and still building his endurance back up.

The Indians managed three runs in the seven innings logged by lefty Francisco Liriano, who allowed an RBI single apiece to Yandy Diaz and rookie catcher Eric Haase. Cleveland carried a 3-1 lead into the fifth inning, but Bieber was unable to keep Detroit's lineup down.

Video: DET@CLE: Diaz grounds an RBI single up the middle

"I thought he was up [in the zone] today more than he's been, even with his breaking ball," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He ended up paying for it. There's nothing that he did today [that changes our opinion of him]. I mean, we love this kid. He's going to be a good one."

In the fifth, the Tigers struck for four runs on five hits, including a three-run home run to left field by Jim Adduci. Overall, Bieber was charged with five runs on nine hits in six innings, in which he struck out four and walked none.

"Maybe [there was] a little bit of fatigue," Bieber said. "But, that's no reason I should be missing spots. I just need to focus a little bit more. You may get away with more mistakes earlier in the game than later in the game. They're definitely going to punish you the second or third time they've seen you. I just need to be sharper."

Adam Rosales added an RBI single in the ninth for Cleveland to make things interesting, but the Tribe could not complete the comeback.

Video: DET@CLE: Rosales smacks an RBI single to right in 9th

On the season, Bieber has gone 10-4 with a 4.50 ERA in his first exposure to the big leagues, piling up 108 strikeouts against 19 walks in 104 innings along the way. There have been bumps in the road, but the 23-year-old righty has shown his potential both through his poise and precision-based approach.

Clevinger sees hard work pay off in career year

Between Double-A and Triple-A earlier this year, Bieber posted a 1.47 ERA with 77 strikeouts against seven walks in 79 2/3 innings. His 5.68 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Majors currently ranks eighth in baseball (min. 70 innings). On that list, Bieber is sandwiched between Carlos Carrasco (5.72) and Max Scherzer (5.65).

"A lot of things have to line up for guys to move up levels," Bieber said. "I've been extremely fortunate with my path and how it's gone. But, I think I've taken advantage of the opportunities that I've gotten. I'm really just trying to enjoy it right now, because it's not very common. It doesn't happen very often."

Come October, the Indians will have to weigh whether Bieber will fit on the postseason roster as a starter, or as a multi-inning reliever.

"I'm not sure what role it will be in," Bieber said. "But, I'm really excited for the opportunity to keep competing and trying to impact this team in a positive way."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Haase party: The reserve-filled lineup allowed Haase to get a rare start behind the plate for the Tribe, paving the way for his first career hit. Go figure that it would come against the Tigers. Haase, who was born in Detroit and was "Mr. Baseball" for the state of Michigan for Divine Child High School in 2011, came through with a go-ahead RBI single in the fourth inning, giving the Tribe a 2-1 lead at the time.

Video: DET@CLE: Haase records first big league hit, RBI

"On a day where we're letting the guys who have grinded take a deep breath," Francona said, "watching him catch a full game, get his first hit, first RBI, that's really exciting. He's worked so hard behind the plate. His throwing and his transfer is so much better than we even saw in Spring Training. That was really fun."

Video: DET@CLE: Terry Francona talks Haase's first hit, RBI

Miller Time: Indians relief ace Andrew Miller checked another item off his comeback to-do list on Sunday, working parts of two innings against the Tigers. The lefty induced three straight groundouts on nine pitches in the seventh and was sent back out for the eighth. Miller created a flyout against Adduci, but then exited after giving up a solo shot to left to Mikie Mahtook.

Video: DET@CLE: Mahtook crushes a solo homer to left in 8th

"Like you hope, keep taking steps in the right direction," Francona said. "It was his best velocity that we've seen [93.8 mph average on his four-seamer and 95.5 mph max, per Statcast™]. Breaking ball continues to be good. He got in a 3-2 count and got one up too much. That's still another good step in the right direction."

SOUND SMART
Haase became the first Indians player to drive in a go-ahead run with his first career hit since Jason Kipnis delivered a walk-off single against the Angels on July 25, 2011.

HE SAID IT
"It was awesome. Nobody deserves it more than that guy. He's had a trying run to get here. He really deserves it. Nobody works as hard as he does. He does a good job and comes in every day and has a positive attitude and works his tail off. I'm really happy for him." -- Bieber, on Haase getting his first career hit

"It's good to get that one out of the way and hopefully move forward at this point and put up some good numbers." -- Haase, whose wife, kids and in-laws were in attendance

UP NEXT
Following Monday's team off-day, Indians ace Corey Kluber (18-7, 2.91 ERA) is slated to take the ball in the opener of a three-game set with the White Sox at 7:10 p.m. ET. Kluber will be working on seven days of rest, helping set his schedule up for the postseason. The righty is 8-4 with a 4.02 ERA in 14 starts at Progressive Field this year. Chicago will counter with lefty Carlos Rodon (6-5, 3.10).

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Shane Bieber

Clevinger sees hard work pay off in career year

After tossing 6 scoreless in clincher, righty closing in on 200-inning mark
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- With his shoulder-length hair soaked in champagne, Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger was asked what this moment meant for him. When Cleveland acquired him, he was coming off elbow surgery and required delivery reconstruction. Four years later, he picked up the win in a division-clinching game.

"That's a real heavy question right now," Clevinger said with a laugh during Saturday night's celebration.

View Full Game Coverage

CLEVELAND -- With his shoulder-length hair soaked in champagne, Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger was asked what this moment meant for him. When Cleveland acquired him, he was coming off elbow surgery and required delivery reconstruction. Four years later, he picked up the win in a division-clinching game.

"That's a real heavy question right now," Clevinger said with a laugh during Saturday night's celebration.

View Full Game Coverage

Clevinger has come an incredibly long way since joining the Tribe as more of a project than a prospect. Now, the right-hander has established himself as a regular in Cleveland's talent-heavy rotation and one of the more durable starters in the game. In the process, though, Clevinger has logged more innings and pitches than he has at any point in his career.

Entering Sunday, Clevinger ranked fifth in the American League in innings (188 1/3), while ranking fourth in the Majors in pitches per game (102) and sixth in baseball in pitches overall (3,061). The Indians will keep a close eye on Clevinger's workload over the next two weeks as the playoffs approach, but there are no concrete plans to have the righty take his foot off the gas.

"We try to use common sense," said Indians manager Terry Francona. "You play the game the right way, and if we think we need to take a guy out of a game some time, we will. But, to me, his tank looks like it's going back up as opposed to the other way."

Along those lines, Clevinger's pitch velocity has climbed steadily throughout this season. Per Statcast™, his 94.5-mph average on his four-seamer in September is the highest of any month, following the 94.0-mph average posted in both July and August. Clevinger's fastball averaged 92.4 mph in April, 93.0 mph in May and 93.5 mph in June.

In 30 starts, Clevinger has gone 12-8 with a 3.06 ERA and 196 strikeouts against 62 walks. His 4.2 WAR (per Fangraphs) ranked seventh in the AL, and 11th in MLB, entering Sunday's action.

The late-season life on his pitches is partially the result of a mechanical adjustment, which involved improving his balance and aggressiveness down the mound slope in order to gain more extension. Throughout the season, Clevinger has also picked up things from the other Indians starters and implemented them into his own between-start routine.

Back in the spring, Clevinger picked Corey Kluber's brain about his shoulder care program, which includes using a blood flow restriction device. During periods of heavy usage this season, Clevinger has also adopted Trevor Bauer's approach of only doing weighted-ball work the day after a start.

Things like that have helped Clevinger close in on a 200-inning season, which has always been one of his goals.

"I've always wanted that workload," Clevinger said. "I wanted to be able to stay in and go deeper and just be able to log that amount of pitches. It's good to see that it's finally paying off, that the recovery and strengthening process is paying off now in the later innings."

Worth noting

• Francona was thrilled with the timing of Cleveland clinching its third straight AL Central title. By completing that task on Saturday, the manager was able to give regulars like Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, Jason Kipnis and Yan Gomes two days off. They were out of the lineup on Sunday, and the Tribe has a team off-day on Monday.

"It's perfect," Francona said. "This is exactly how I would've drawn it up. The guys that have played pretty much every day get today and tomorrow. Then, we can come back and it gives us 13 games to kick it back in and get prepared for the next step."

• Third baseman Josh Donaldson was in the lineup on Sunday and has been playing on an every-other-day basis since coming off the disabled list on Tuesday. Francona said that Donaldson should be cleared to begin playing in consecutive games following Monday's off-day.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Mike Clevinger

Lindor doesn't know his own strength

One of the distinctive traits of professional athletes is the confidence they have in their abilities. It is that confidence that helps them endure the inevitable struggles and bumps in the road during their careers. At the same time, they have to be realistic about their abilities so they can play within themselves. 

It's a tough line to straddle, indeed. It could be argued that Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor once erred too far on the realistic end of the spectrum. On Saturday night, Lindor hit his 35th home run of the season, but it wasn't that long ago that he said he wasn't going to hit 35 homers:

Tribe clinches 3rd straight AL Central title

Lindor's club-record 8th leadoff homer sets tone early in rout
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- As the celebration consumed the Indians' clubhouse on Saturday, a trio of veterans converged off to the side, each with a bottle of champagne in hand. Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis then formed a circle, embraced and savored the moment.

Maybe this American League Central title -- one clinched with an overwhelming 15-0 victory over the Tigers at Progressive Field -- felt like a foregone conclusion for this club. That did not make the journey to Saturday's cork-popping party any less enjoyable, especially for the players who have gone from prospects to core pieces to veterans throughout the years of sustained success.

View Full Game Coverage

CLEVELAND -- As the celebration consumed the Indians' clubhouse on Saturday, a trio of veterans converged off to the side, each with a bottle of champagne in hand. Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis then formed a circle, embraced and savored the moment.

Maybe this American League Central title -- one clinched with an overwhelming 15-0 victory over the Tigers at Progressive Field -- felt like a foregone conclusion for this club. That did not make the journey to Saturday's cork-popping party any less enjoyable, especially for the players who have gone from prospects to core pieces to veterans throughout the years of sustained success.

View Full Game Coverage

Shop for new AL Central champs gear

"You can't ever take it for granted," said pitcher Josh Tomlin, who has been in the Indians' organization longer than any player in the room. "A lot of people play this game and don't ever get to go to the playoffs."

For the Indians, it's their third consecutive AL Central title and 10th -- the most of any team in the division -- since the current alignment was formed in 1994. Under manager Terry Francona, who took the helm in 2013, the Tribe has piled up an AL-leading 537 wins, while making the playoffs four times in that span.

Video: Must C Clinch: Tribe win AL Central title

Each trip to the postseason, however, has ended in heartbreak. That makes what took place on Saturday afternoon step one within the big-picture goal for this club, which is rich on talent, but has fought through plenty of adversity this season.

That objective, of course, is to bring the city of Cleveland its first World Series championship since 1948.

Video: DET@CLE: Francona on 3rd straight division title

"We've earned our right to play into October, which is not to be taken lightly," said Cody Allen, who became the franchise's all-time saves leader this season. "But, we want to play a lot of baseball."

That sentiment was best summed up by Indians starter Mike Clevinger, who held the Tigers to one hit over six shutout innings in Saturday's romp. When his outing was over, Clevinger shook Francona's hand, headed up the ramp behind the dugout and walked into a clubhouse that was being covered from ceiling to floor in plastic in preparation for the party.

10 thrilling moments from Indians' 2018 run

The scene was actually disconcerting for Clevinger, who remembers walking to the same room in the later innings in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series against the Cubs. The clubhouse staffers were hanging the plastic sheets in the event the Indians won the Fall Classic that night. No Cleveland fan needs to be told how that story ended.

Video: DET@CLE: Clevinger K's 5 in 6 scoreless frames

"I got sick to my stomach," Clevinger said. "The last time I saw them doing that here, we ended up losing that Game 7 and being sent home. That's why I was like, 'Oh my God.' We were preparing to win the World Series and then that had to get ripped down, and we all had to leave in tears and silence."

Clevinger added that bitter memories like that one -- combined with last year's early exit in the AL Division Series against the Yankees -- only serve as fuel for the current group. The Indians had a 3-1 lead in the World Series in '16 and did not finish the job. A year ago, the Tribe won 102 games and set an AL record with a 22-game winning streak, but could not stave off the Yankees after taking a 2-0 lead in the ALDS.

Tribe embraces 2 weeks to prep for playoffs

All season long, as the Indians inched closer and closer to this clinch, those moments lingered in the background.

"Anything we've been through," Francona said, "you're supposed to learn from it and use it to your advantage. That's the whole idea. If you're young and you haven't been through it, OK, you take the enthusiasm. If you've been through it, you know what's expected and what's going to happen. It'll be a whole new [experience this time]. Everybody starts clean again."

Cleveland's potential was on full display in the division-clinching victory.

Video: DET@CLE: Indians put up 6 runs in the 1st inning

AL MVP Award candidates Francisco Lindor (leadoff home run) and Jose Ramirez (homer shy of the cycle) helped fuel the offense. Clevinger showed the strength of the rotation. Everything else in-between provided the best-case look at why the Tribe has the ability to make noise in the postseason.

"It feels good to celebrate," Lindor said, "give that little teaser to all the guys, like, 'This is what could happen if you continue to win.' Now, we have to continue to compete day in and day out."

Carrasco straps cooler to his head for clincher

During the party, Trevor Bauer -- GoPro camera fixed to his hat, with ski goggles beneath the brim -- made his way around the room, showering teammates and anyone else in his path in beer. Former Indians great Carlos Baerga strolled in the room and snapped a photo with Ramirez. Allen spread the word that there were cigars to pass out, and smoke soon hovered beneath the champagne-soaked ceiling tiles.

Video: DET@CLE: Ramirez on clinching a postseason spot

When Indians chairman and CEO Paul Dolan walked in the room, there was a collective cry from the players, who soon swarmed around him, shaking bottles of bubbly and emptying the contents on the executive. President of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, general manager Mike Chernoff and other front-office members did not leave the room dry, either.

"The accomplishment of winning a division is not something we take for granted," Antonetti said. "Winning in Major League Baseball is hard and to sustain success is even harder, so the fact that this group of guys has been able to win three consecutive Central division championships is a testament to their work, their mindset and the leadership of Tito and the coaching staff."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Leading the way: Lindor sparked the Indians' six-run first inning by belting an 0-1 fastball from Michael Fulmer for a leadoff homer. That marked the eighth leadoff shot of the season for the Tribe's shortstop to set a club record. Grady Sizemore held the previous mark with seven in 2008. Following Lindor's blast, Brantley also homered against Fulmer, who then exited due to right knee inflammation. More >

Video: DET@CLE: Lindor, Brantley smack back-to-back homers

Exclusive company: Ramirez took care of two milestones in the second inning. He reached 100 RBIs with a run-scoring double and then 100 runs when he came home on a single by Edwin Encarnacion. This marks only the 35th time (25 players) in recorded MLB history that a player has achieved at least 30 homers, 30 steals, 100 RBIs and 100 runs in a season. Ramirez is the first to achieve the feat since 2012 (Ryan Braun).

Video: DET@CLE: Ramirez drills an RBI triple to center field

EDWIN EXITS EARLY
After delivering an RBI single in the fourth inning, Encarnacion rolled his right ankle on second base while running on a hit by Yonder Alonso. With the Indians holding a 15-0 lead at the time, the veteran designated hitter exited as a precaution with what the team called a mild ankle sprain. Encarnacion went 2-for-3 with a walk, two RBIs and three runs in the rout. Francona indicated the slugger was fine and Encarnacion certainly looked it as he participated in the postgame clinching party. More >

Video: DET@CLE: Encarnacion leaves the game in the 4th

SOUND SMART
Lindor's homer gave him 120 runs scored on the season. He is only the eighth player in MLB history to have at least 20 steals, 35 homers, 40 doubles and 120 runs in one year. The others include Alfonso Soriano (2002), Shawn Green (1999), Barry Bonds (1998), Larry Walker (1997), Ellis Burks (1996), Rafael Palmeiro (1993) and Chuck Klein (1932).

Each member of the Indians' starting lineup notched at least one RBI against the Tigers, marking the first time the franchise achieved that feat since a 22-0 win over the Yankees on Aug. 31, 2004. This was the first time every player in the Tribe's lineup had at least one hit and one RBI since Oct. 2, 1990 (13-3 win over the Royals).

HE SAID IT
"It's really cool. It's something I'm really enjoying right now. I'm really trying to soak it in, because Tito's message was to soak it in. It doesn't happen for a lot of teams every year. To have it be three in a row and have these guys know what they're doing, take me under their wing, really teach me how this club operates is big. I'm really enjoying it right now." -- Rookie Shane Bieber

"I'm savoring every moment of this. This never gets old to me. This is a lot of hard work that this group has put in to get to this point. It's all well-deserved, well-earned, and I'm glad to be a part of it." -- Brantley, who missed much of the previous two years with injuries

UP NEXT
Bieber (10-3, 4.32 ERA) will start at 1:10 p.m. ET on Sunday as the Tribe wraps up the season series against the Tigers at Progressive Field. Bieber, who logged a career-high 11 K's last time out, spun seven shutout innings against Detroit on June 22. The Tigers will counter with lefty Francisco Liriano (4-10, 4.65 ERA) in the rubber game.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Mike Clevinger, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez

Lindor's 8th leadoff HR sets club mark, tone

Indians shortstop sparks 6-run 1st inning in rout of Tigers
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor wanted to be the club's leadoff hitter this season. The switch-hitting shortstop embraced the opportunity to set the tone for the lineup, injecting energy from the first pitch of the game on.

Lindor has made the most of that role, and in record fashion.

View Full Game Coverage

CLEVELAND -- Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor wanted to be the club's leadoff hitter this season. The switch-hitting shortstop embraced the opportunity to set the tone for the lineup, injecting energy from the first pitch of the game on.

Lindor has made the most of that role, and in record fashion.

View Full Game Coverage

In the first inning of Saturday's 15-0 win over the Tigers -- a victory that clinched a third straight American League Central title -- Lindor launched a franchise-record eighth leadoff home run of the year. Grady Sizemore held the previous mark with seven homers to open a game during the 2008 campaign. Lindor's jack was the 11th leadoff homer of his career.

"Whether we're trying to clinch or not," Lindor said, "going out there and scoring early, it's extremely important."

Video: DET@CLE: Lindor on third straight AL Central title

Lindor, who has 35 home runs on the season overall, crushed an 0-1 two-seamer from Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer, who threw the pitch low and in. Lindor laced the pitch to the seats beyond the right-field wall with an exit velocity of 105.4 mph, according to Statcast™.

 

Three pitches later, Michael Brantley also went deep against Fulmer, who then exited following a quick meeting with manager Ron Gardenhire and a member of the club's medical staff. It marked the first time the Indians opened a game with consecutive home runs since July 8, 2016, when Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis did so against the Yankees.

Video: DET@CLE: Indians put up 6 runs in the 1st inning

The back-to-back homers sparked a six-run first inning against the Tigers, and Cleveland's lineup did not slow down. The Indians held an 11-0 lead after two innings en route to a 15-0 lead after four. The substantial cushion allowed the clubhouse staffers ample time to set up the postgame celebration.

"It was great," Brantley said of the surplus of offense. "It shows how focused that our team was that we wanted to make sure we did it in front of our home fans. We were one game away, but we wanted to make sure that we control our own destiny, so that we can enjoy this moment.

Video: DET@CLE: Tribe celebrate 3rd straight division title

"I think we did a good job of just putting some good swings on the ball and doing it as a team. It was a total team effort today."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Michael Brantley, Francisco Lindor