Yes, it is easy to overrate the present. That's a big part of sports, a big part of life. Every time someone or something new and exciting comes along, we trot out the overbearing superlatives.
Best player ever! Greatest team ever! Most amazing thing ever!
Well, we want to celebrate our time, right?
Trouble is, we say it so often that "ever" begins to lose meaning. How can you really compare Michael Trout and Willie Mays? How could we possibly know if Giancarlo Stanton has more or less power than Josh Gibson? Does it enhance or cheapen to contrast Clayton Kershaw and Sandy Koufax?
Still, we do these things because it's fun to believe we are seeing something that has never happened before.
So let's just say it: No team has ever played baseball like the Cleveland Indians have been playing during their 18-game winning streak
There are numbers that show this -- numbers we will get into -- but first we need to talk about just how unlikely an 18-game winning streak is. There have been two 18-game winning streaks since baseball expanded in 1961. A movie was made about the first of those -- the 2002 Oakland A's won 20 games in a row while Brad Pitt waited outside in his car.
The second is this Cleveland streak. It is unclear if there will be a movie made about this Cleveland team's streak, but if there is I hope Kevin Spacey plays Terry Francona. They don't look all that much alike, but I think Spacey would get that Tito vibe.
In any case, these streaks are rare, because of course they are. The chances for a mediocre team winning 18 games in a row is, as you might expect, almost nil. The math tells us that a .500 team's chances of winning 18 in a row is 262,000 to 1 -- these are the same odds of you flipping heads on an equally weighed coin 18 times in a row. Go ahead, try it. We'll wait.
The odds of a very good team -- say a .650 winning percentage team (105 wins over a full season) -- winning 18-in a row are much better, but it's still 2,330 to 1. There are very rarely teams that win 105 games over a season, by the way; it has only happened nine times since 1961. And the odds are wildly against even those teams.
So right away, we know this Cleveland streak is uncommon and special.
But here's the crazy part: Even among the rare long streaks, this Cleveland thing is unique. No team has ever been so dominant over a winning streak.
Well, there's that word again: Ever. What does it mean?
• Top winning streaks around MLB
There's no point in trying to compare this thing to the 1884 Providence Grays' 20-game winning streak or the Chicago White Stockings' 21 game streak four years earlier, or even the 1916 New York Giants' 26-game streak (which did include a tie). That was very different baseball.
The Chicago Cubs won 21 in a row in 1935. That, too, was very different baseball -- it was before integration, before lights, before a lot of things -- but it's a lot closer than the Deadball Ear stuff. So let's compare. The '35 Cubs hit .314 during their streak, their pitchers had a 2.02 ERA, and they outscored opponents 137-50 -- 6.5 to 2.4 per runs game. That's pretty special.
That Cubs team had Hall of Famers Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman, Chuck Klein and Freddie Lindstrom. Herman -- one of the least-known members of the Hall of Fame -- was especially good; he played in all 21 games, hit .396 and scored 18 runs.
The 1947 Yankees won 19 in a row. They outscored their opponents, 119-41 (6.3 to 2.2 per game), mostly behind some crazy-good pitching and defense. The crazy thing about their streak was that the Yankees threw zero shutouts. I'm not sure how you win that many games in a row without at least one shutout. The star of the streak was, of course, Joe DiMaggio, who hit .375 and slugged .653 for the 19 games that more or less put away the pennant -- this probably was a reason he won the American League MVP Award even though his season numbers were dwarfed by Ted Williams.
The 1953 Yankees won 18 in a row, outscoring their opponents, 129-44 (7.2 runs to 2.4). They were the most dominant of the pre-Cleveland winning streaks; only two of their games were one-run wins, and only one of those games went into extra innings (they were tied 5-5 with Chicago when the streak was at seven; Gil McDougald ended the drama with a two-run homer in the 10th).
And then we get to Oakland's amazing 20-game winning streak in 2002. Those A's hit .299 and slugged .519 for the 20 games. They outhomered their opponents, 30-16. They were plenty dominant.
But more than dominant, they were opportunistic. They won four one-run games, including a 1-0 victory over Chicago when the barbershop quartet of Cory Lidle, Ricardo Rincon, Chad Bradford and Billy Koch outdueled Mark Buehrle (who gave up his one run on a Jermaine Dye homer).
That A's club just had some serious magic going. The streak started when they got out of a jam in the ninth inning against Toronto. They scored three runs in the ninth to beat the Twins in a game. Their last three victories in the streak were all walk-off victories. This, of course, included Win No. 20, when they blew an 11-0 lead to a terrible Royals team and needed to score in the bottom of the ninth to win.
This isn't to underplay their success; the A's outscored opponents 141-65 (7.1 to 3.3). They were incredible. But now we get to what Cleveland has done for these 18 games.
The Indians' offense has hit .309/.387/.568 for these 18 games. It's simply unprecedented in long winning streaks.
OPS for 18-plus-game winning streaks since the Deadball Era
- 2017 Indians, .955
- 2002 A's, .886
- 1953 Yankees, 845
- 1947 Yankees, .804
- 1935 Cubs, .800
OK, that's just ridiculous -- a .955 OPS for the whole team? Jeff Bagwell's career OPS was .948. Frank Robinson's was .926. Entire teams do not have .955 OPS for any extended stretch of time, much less three weeks.
But here's the craziest part of all: The pitching has been even better.
Team ERA for 18-plus-game winning streaks since Deadball
- 2017 Indians, 1.78
- 1947 Yankees, 2.00
- 1935 Cubs, 2.02
- 1953 Yankees, 2.32
- 2002 A's, 2.65
• Did you know? Indians win streak
Cleveland pitchers have thrown five shutouts over the stretch. They are striking out more than a batter per inning. The Indians have a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a team, which is all but impossible. The Tribe has outscored opponents 121-32 -- that's 6.7 to 1.8 per game.
It's unprecedented, all of it. The Indians are without a couple of their best players -- Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley are both on the DL -- and their superweapon reliever Andrew Miller has been out since before the streak began. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters.
Corey Kluber has won three of the games with a 1.96 ERA. Carlos Carrasco has allowed two runs in his three starts during the streak. The mercurial Trevor Bauer has been credited with four wins.
Francisco Lindor, who had not been hitting, suddenly is -- he's at .357/.430/.757 with eight home runs during the streak. Jose Ramirez has been even better; he's slugging almost .900 with 16 extra-base hits in his 14 games during the streak.
This has been a season of extremes. The Dodgers looked to be the greatest team in the history of baseball; now they can't win a game. The Astros looked to be the greatest team in the history of baseball; now they are behind the Indians for home-field advantage in the AL. The Nationals have wrapped up their division in early September; the Cubs are terrific and miserable, often just innings apart.
And none of it is decisive. This streak all but guaranteed the Tribe a choice spot in the playoffs, but once we get there, it's all brand new. The 2001 Mariners won 116 games but didn't make it to the World Series. The 1935 Cubs won 21 in a row but lost pretty decisively to the Tigers in the World Series. The 2002 Oakland A's blew a 2-1 Division Series lead and lost to the Twins -- a scene not shown in the movie.
Still, this Cleveland thing is one-of-a-kind baseball. There's no telling how long it can last, but that might miss the point. It's a miracle that it has lasted this long.