The Cleveland Indians entered the month of August facing a stern test.
The schedule was full of post-season contenders, with home and home series with the Red Sox and Yankees, an 11 game trip to Tampa, Minneapolis, and Kansas City, and a couple of game vs. Colorado.
They started the month 10 games over .500, and they ended it 20 over the break even mark thanks to a 19-9 month.
What is more remarkable is Terry Francona’s squad had several important players missing time with injuries.
Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Andrew Miller all missed most of this important stretch of games with injuries. And yet, the Tribe rolled on.
They did it first and foremost with incredible pitching, mostly from the starting rotation.
After allowing 12 runs to the Red Sox on August 1st, in what should be the Major League Baseball game of the year, gave up more than four runs in a game just five times the rest of the month.
Three of those games came consecutively in home series vs. Boston, and Cleveland won the last of those games, a 13-6 win over Sox ace Chris Sale, a day after the Tribe went through a two game stretch where the offense couldn’t buy a hit.
The staff had a streak of 30 straight scoreless innings, which ironically ended with ace Corey Kluber on the mound.
Despite all the injuries, the offense pitched in too, scoring five or more runs in half of the 28 games.
The hitting was revitalized with the addition of Jay Bruce, acquired from the Mets. Upon arrival, Bruce hit in his first 11 starts, contributing four home runs and 13 runs batted in.
The injuries to Brantley and Chisenhall necessitated the deal, and give the front office and ownership a gold star for seeing the club needed a boost.
Depth in the farm system paid dividends with Giovanny Urshela, Erik Gonzalez, and Yandy Diaz contributing to the Indians’ success.
Among the position players, these are the standouts–
Carlos Santana: 997 OPS, 7 HR, 15 RBI
Edwin Encarnacion: Batted just .220 for the month, but belted 10 homers
Francisco Lindor: 9 HR, 17 RBI
Diaz: 8 for 20, 5 RBI
Pitching wise, there are more exceptional statistics–
Kluber: 5-1, 1.96 ERA, .146 batting average against
Trevor Bauer: 5-0, 2.31 ERA, 44 strikeouts in 39 innings
Ryan Merritt: 2-0, 1.15 ERA
Joe Smith: 9 appearances, 8 of them scoreless
Tyler Olson: 8-2/3 scoreless innings
What does this period of great play mean for Francona’s club?
When Brantley, Chisenhall, and Kipnis come back, it could be a lethal batting order, one that has Chisenhall and maybe Santana hitting as low as seven and eight in the lineup.
It also buys more time for Miller to rest his knee. It wouldn’t bother me if the lefty wasn’t held out until September 15th, giving him two weeks to get ready for what seems like an inevitable post-season berth.
Same with Brantley. He hasn’t started baseball activities yet, but as long as he can get two weeks of play under his belt, he should be ready for the playoffs.
Will this mean another World Series berth for the Indians? We can’t say that, baseball is not that kind of sport. However, as usual, a Terry Francona led team is playing better ball in the second half of the season.
They passed their toughest test of the season with ease, and the magic number (right now 24) countdown can start right now.