CLEVELAND -- Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor headed out to their positions in the eighth inning on Sunday afternoon, fully expecting to finish out the Indians' final game of the regular season. Manager Terry Francona had something else in mind, waiting until one out was recorded to send in a
CLEVELAND -- Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor headed out to their positions in the eighth inning on Sunday afternoon, fully expecting to finish out the Indians' final game of the regular season. Manager Terry Francona had something else in mind, waiting until one out was recorded to send in a pair of replacements.
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That gave the Cleveland crowd a chance to show their appreciation with a rousing standing ovation.
"I wasn't expecting it," Lindor said after the Tribe's 3-1 win over the White Sox. "It was something special."
The same could be said about this incredible season for the Indians.
Coming off a World Series appearance, Cleveland returned this year as a heavy favorite to contend once again for a championship. How this Indians team went about it was unpredictable and historic. With their final win, the Indians ended with 102 victories, marking the second highest total in franchise history. Cleveland went 26-4 in September and ended with 33 wins in 37 games, running away with the American League Central crown.
Next up: The AL Division Series presented by Doosan on Thursday at Progressive Field. The Indians will face the winner of Tuesday's AL Wild Card Game between the Yankees and Twins.
"It's time to get to work," Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin said. "Everybody is looking forward to that. This is when the fun begins."
Cleveland's journey to this point included an AL-record 22 consecutive wins between August and September -- a run that fell four victories shy of the longest streak on record. Cleveland sent five players to the All-Star Game, saw Corey Kluber turn in a campaign worthy of a second AL Cy Young Award and watched both Ramirez and Lindor develop into legitimate MVP-caliber players.
Consider this: Cleveland was 48-45 after a 1-5 start to the second half. Then the club went 54-15 the rest of the way.
"For whatever reason, it took us a while to get -- whether it's your rhythm, whether it's your footing," Francona said. "But once they did, it's like they never took their foot off the gas."
With Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer powering the rotation, along with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen anchoring the bullpen, Cleveland's pitching staff turned in an historic campaign. The 31.8 Wins Above Replacement (per Fangraphs) posted by the staff is the highest single-season mark in MLB history. The Indians' pitchers also set MLB records for total strikeouts (1,614) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.1).
The Tribe led the Majors with a 3.30 ERA, representing the first time since 1954 that the team paced baseball in that statistic. That showing on the mound, combined with an offense that finished second in the AL in OPS (.788) and third in runs (818), helped Cleveland register a plus-254 run differential. That led MLB and marked the best run differential in club history since 1948 (plus-272).
The veteran players in the clubhouse such as Michael Brantley -- the select few who were on the 2012 team that lost 94 games -- are cherishing this moment for the franchise.
"I'm so proud to be a part of it," Brantley said. "When I first started here, we weren't that good. It's no secret. Now, we're World Series contenders. We're playing great baseball. We won 100 games. We had one of the longest winning streaks. All of these positive things we're doing, it's great. We came so far."
The goal now is to get one win farther than last year.
"It's a special regular season," Francona said. "Now, we're going to go embrace the next challenge."
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.