The Cleveland Indians are the 2016 American League Central Division Champions!
No one game wild card nonsense this season, the Tribe will start the AL Division Series next Thursday somewhere, hopefully at Progressive Field.
Although the Indians have been in first place since June, it hasn’t been an easy trip to the division title despite the margin being eight games as of this morning.
Terry Francona has been without arguably the team’s best player, OF Michael Brantley, for the entire season. He has played just 11 games, getting 39 at bats for the year.
The starting catcher, Yan Gomes was mired in a batting slump the entire season, and then separated his shoulder in July and has missed the remainder of the season.
And in the past few weeks, the team has lost two starting pitchers, the strength of the team coming into the season, as Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were ruled out for the rest of the regular season.
Look, all teams have injuries and they overcome them as well, but we are simply pointing out that this hasn’t been one of those magical seasons where everything fell into place for the Indians.
The Tribe earned this division title by dominating within the division. They have a 46-24 record against Central Division teams, and have a winning record against the other members of the division.
They earned this title by going on a 14 game winning streak in June, a franchise record. And for those who belittle the accomplishment and point to the team’s record without the streak, we would say that every major league had the opportunity to win 14 in a row.
To date, only the Cleveland Indians have done it.
They earned this title by ranking first in the American League in staff ERA, and scoring the second most runs in the league. If you do that, chances are you will have a very good record.
They earned this title by dominating at Progressive Field, going 53-28 at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. They’ve gone .500 on the road too, so it’s not as though they are horrible outside of Cleveland.
They earned this title because they had young players from their farm system step up in the wake of the injuries that occurred, and guys like Jose Ramirez, Tyler Naquin, and Mike Clevinger have been major contributors to the cause.
They earned this title because two veterans signed in the off-season became major contributors. Mike Napoli had career highs in home runs and RBIs, and Rajai Davis is going to lead the league in stolen bases at age 35.
Both have also become leaders in the clubhouse and taken the younger guys under their wing.
They earned this title because the front office went out at the trade deadline and acquired perhaps the best relief pitcher in baseball in southpaw Andrew Miller, whose addition has made the Tribe relief corps maybe the best in the game.
They earned this title because they have one of the game’s most dynamic young players in SS Francisco Lindor and his partner at the keystone, Jason Kipnis.
They earned this title because Carlos Santana rebounded from a couple of lackluster seasons in the power department to bash a career high 34 dingers, a club record for a switch hitter.
Lastly, they earned this title because they have one of the game’s best skippers in Francona. We have questioned his in-game strategy from time to time, but you can’t doubt the respect he has from his players.
The hugs he gave his key guys as they left the field last night spoke volumes as to the relationship he has with the players.
Now, it’s time for some rest, but the Indians also need to win some games to secure home field for at least the first round.
But it was a sweet scene last night in Detroit. And if they couldn’t clinch at home, that’s the next best place to do so.