With this recent hot streak, the Cleveland Indians have done what has been expected since the first game of the 2017 season, they have taken command of the American League Central Division.
They lead the Minnesota Twins by six games with 41 to go. If the Tribe goes 21-20 during the rest of the schedule, then the Twins will have to have a 28-13 record to top Cleveland.
Since Paul Molitor’s team is just three games over .500 for the season, and really have only two reliable starters in Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios, that’s not a likely scenario.
This hot streak has come about due to tremendous pitching. Since the 12-10 loss to Boston at Fenway Park on August 1st, Terry Francona’s pitching staff has held opponents to three runs or less in 13 of the last 16 games.
In two of the other three games, both losses, the opposing team scored four runs. Only an 8-1 loss to New York on August 6th provides a bad day for the pitching staff, and that game was partially due to a misplay in rightfield by Abraham Almonte.
Most of the recent surge has been done on the road. An 11 game trek through four cities seemed a tad daunting at the start, but the Indians responded with an 8-2 record with one game remaining today in Kansas City.
This trip has been so long that Jay Bruce has been with the team over a week and still hasn’t played his first game at Progressive Field with the Tribe.
Actually, today’s game is the end of a stretch of 16 out of 22 contests on the road. And has they have all year, Cleveland has been very good away from home with a 13-8 mark to date in that stretch.
After a six game homestand, the Tribe will embark on another 11 game roadie from late August through the Labor Day holiday.
The starting pitching has been the catalyst for the hot streak, but the front office can feel free to take a bow as well.
Getting Joe Smith at the July 31st trade deadline didn’t seem like a big move, but the sidearming righty has made six scoreless appearances with Cleveland, allowing just two hits.
His addition gives Francona another option he can trust in close games along with Bryan Shaw, who has been much better with a reduced workload, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.
Bruce has been another godsend to date. The offense was struggling when the move to get the veteran was made, as Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Michael Brantley were all out of the lineup.
The veteran came over from the Mets and immediately started raking. In his 10 games with Cleveland, he has hit .389 with 3 homers and 12 RBIs.
And as we said previously, he has yet to play his first game at Progressive Field. Our guess is he will be greeted with “Bruuuuuuce” chants upon his arrival tomorrow night.
In our view, Bruce looks like a different hitter than the one we remember in Cincinnati. He seems to have a much shorter stroke.
As for what happens when Brantley and Chisenhall return, our guess is the latter will play centerfield with Bradley Zimmer coming in late for defense.
Francona will have a much longer lineup when they comeback, with players like Chisenhall and perhaps Carlos Santana hitting as low as 7th or 8th.
The schedule is still tough with the next 11 games against Boston, New York, and Kansas City. However, if the starting pitching continues in this manner, the Cleveland Indians and their fans will start counting down the magic number very soon.