These Indians go to 11… wins in a row. That's the longest win streak in the Majors this year and the longest by an Indians club within a single season since 1982. Most importantly, it has turned a dead-even American League Central race with the Royals into a six-game Tribe
These Indians go to 11… wins in a row. That's the longest win streak in the Majors this year and the longest by an Indians club within a single season since 1982. Most importantly, it has turned a dead-even American League Central race with the Royals into a six-game Tribe lead near the midway mark.
Just think: If Cleveland can keep this going for nine more games, Michael Lewis is obligated to write a book about the team and Brad Pitt is obligated to turn that book into a movie.
Here are 11 takeaways from the Indians' 11-game streak.
1. It's their longest streak since 1982.
Yeah, I know I already mentioned that in the lede, but did you stop to think about that for a second? The 1995 Indians won 100 games -- in a strike-shortened 144-game schedule. That's a .694 winning percentage, bested by only two teams (the 1998 Yankees and the 2001 Mariners) in the Wild Card era.
And that team never won 11 in a row (its season high was a nine-game streak). But this installment of the Indians -- and the '82 club that won just 78 games all year -- did it. Because baseball always brings the strange.
2. They're doing it behind their signature strength.
Every evaluator worth his vision insurance plan knew Cleveland's rotation was dangerous. But the continued emergence of Danny Salazar, a drastic 180 for Trevor Bauer and the understated steadiness of Josh Tomlin have made this an even deeper and more dynamic unit behind Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco than even the most optimistic souls anticipated.
And during this run, the rotation has been stupid good. In the 11 starts, these guys have posted a 2.07 ERA, averaged 7.5 innings per outing (with three complete games) and allowed just a .165 average against.
• Santana seals Tribe's 11th straight in 3-run 9th
3. And they're doing it behind their signature star.
All due respect to the injured Michael Brantley and to two-time All-Star Jason Kipnis (whose numbers have improved of late) and Carlos Santana (who might be on his way to a 30-homer season), but the signature star here is Francisco Lindor. You can't say enough about this kid. It's not often that a rookie totally changes the scope of a ballclub the way he did when he came up last June (the Indians were an also-ran that made a belated-but-ill-fated run at a Wild Card with him in tow). In his first calendar year in the bigs, Lindor's WAR according to FanGraphs is ranked only behind that of Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson.
Before Lindor, Cleveland was a woeful defensive club. With Lindor (again, per FanGraphs), the Indians have the lowest slugging percentage allowed on ground balls of any team in baseball. And in this streak, he's posting a .357/.417/.619 slash.
If you're having a first-half AL MVP Award conversation, be sure to include Frankie.
4. They're doing it without Brantley.
That's the most amazing thing about all of this. The Tribe's 2016 hopes were supposed to be pinned to Brantley's health, but his ongoing issues following November right shoulder surgery have limited him to just 11 games (there's that number again) with no timetable for his return. Brantley has been the Tribe's most consistent hitter in recent years (from 2014-15, he had more extra-base hits than Miguel Cabrera), so his absence is massive. But other guys, who we'll address, have stepped up.
Brantley, for the record, has begun swinging off a tee after receiving a cortisone injection, so perhaps the Indians will have a clearer idea of his timetable soon.
5. They're doing it without Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd.
Both of those guys got suspended for PEDs (Almonte in the spring, Byrd in early June), further affecting the outlook in the outfield but, importantly, opening up time for Tyler Naquin and Jose Ramirez. This is as central to the Tribe storyline as anything.
6. Ramirez has been unreal.
That was little Ramirez, a guy who played himself out of the starting shortstop job last April, but has thrived in a super-utility role, driving in the first and last runs in win No. 11 over the Braves on Tuesday night. He's been doing that all year, batting .408 with runners in scoring position (the second-highest mark in the AL). He had the game-winning hit on June 19, completing the sweep of the White Sox and maybe -- if you believe in higher sporting powers -- setting the tone for the Cavaliers' Game 7 triumph in the NBA Finals later that night.
7. Naquin has been unreal, too.
Naquin has also seized the opportunity, showing unexpected pop (he's got two homers, four doubles and two triples during this streak) and logging an increasingly legitimate AL Rookie of the Year Award case. That he misplayed the would-be final out in the ninth Tuesday and still gets limited against some lefties shows he's not fully developed. But Naquin has been an instrumental add.
8. Speaking of instrumental adds… Juan Uribe.
His influence on Ramirez was apparently instantaneously, but, frankly, he brought little else to the equation in the season's first two months, posting a .661 OPS. But we know there always seems to be a little magic looming in Uribe's bat, and he's shown that in this stretch, belting five big homers. The Indians might have gotten their $4 million worth just in this month of June, and Uribe used some of that cash to buy some sweet gold shoes:
9. This is complicating the Trade Deadline conversation.
That the Indians need an impact outfield bat has been an assumption all year, and if they can stomach the acquisition costs, they've got the pieces in their farm system to go out and get a rental like Carlos Beltran or a two-year solution like Jay Bruce. That can absolutely happen.
Except, right now, with Naquin and Rajai Davis and Lonnie Chisenhall going so well and Brantley taking swings, perhaps Cleveland places greater emphasis on the 'pen. It's a fluid conversation, because the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline is just less than five weeks away. Chisenhall has teased this team in the past, going on spurts like this one (.371/.405/.686 slash line during the streak) that lead you to believe his Minor League stats have finally translated, only to hit another rut. And Naquin has an abnormally high batting average on balls in play. But right now, the outfield is actually delivering.
10. Bauer might be the big story here.
He began the season in the bullpen, with the Indians growing increasingly impatient with his unorthodox approach and control issues. But what we've seen from Bauer since his return to the rotation -- and more specifically in this month of June -- is a more, as Terry Francona put it, "conventional" style, a pared-down approach in which he's thrown more sinkers and more strikes, period.
Big ups here to backup catcher Chris Gimenez, who joined the club in May. Gimenez's experience with Texas as a favorite batterymate of Yu Darvish seems to be applicable to his experience with Bauer, who also has a deep repertoire but needed to become less predictable with it.
11. This is real.
That's all anybody wants to know when a team goes on a streak like this, right? The fact that the aforementioned 1982 Indians did it tells you there's no perfect science behind streaks.
But look, when you have quality starting pitching, one through five, you can sidestep the ruts that ruin a season. The bottom line, for me, is that the Indians' question marks -- mainly related to the sustainability of their offense -- are no bigger than the questions faced by their Central foes, and now they've built themselves a nice little cushion to work with once this crazy run reaches its inevitable conclusion.
That is, unless we've entered some alternate universe in which Cleveland teams never lose again. But something tells me the Browns have at least one L in them.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.