It’s funny – my English teachers always told me that once a number got over twenty, I could go ahead and just write it out. 19? Better write that out with letters, but Twenty-One? Go ahead and use those numerals on the top of your keyboard. It felt arbitrary then, and it feels arbitrary now.
The Cleveland Indians have won twenty-two games in a row. It’s incredible. It’s incomprehensible (seriously, we all think we know what the stakes are, but let’s let October shake out and we’ll all try to put it into perspective. We’ll fail, but we’ll try). Twenty-three could happen Friday night at Progressive Field, if Bauer keeps mastering his curve ball, or it could end (if he doesn’t). It doesn’t matter at this point. The Indians have been pouring gravy on their Thanksgiving dinner for 7 wins now (since they won the Windows lottery for 200-plus Clevelanders), and they are going to lose a game somewhere at some point.
It’s been kind of lost in the storylines of wins twenty-one and twenty-two, but the Indians have kind of lost that magic that propelled them to twenty wins in the first place. They were winning games by incredible margins. They were preventing teams from scoring and hitting in the clutch. They haven’t done that for two games now, but they’ve still won. In the finale against the Tigers, the Indians basically rode a Jay Bruce 3-run home run to victory on the shoulders of Mike Clevinger. Outside of that, they scored one run. but they were still pretty efficient with the opportunities they had. Thursday night, by contrast, was a travesty. I went into the ninth inning expecting to lose. In fact, let’s get it out there — the Indians deserved to lose this game. They pitched okay (as is to be merely hoped for when Josh Tomlin starts), but the offense failed to execute time and time again. In the 8th inning, the Indians had the bases loaded with 1 out and were trailing the Royals by a mere run — but Bruce and Santana popped out in quick succession. That’s the recipe to end a streak. It happens. Pack it in. Get ready for October.
Not so fast, my friend.
The bottom of the 9th was inauspicious enough — Yandy Diaz grounded out weakly. Those watching had to look at Brandon Guyer and Yan Gomes with one out and think “welp, this over.”
No so fast, my friend.
Tito The Home-White substituted Tyler Naquin for Guyer like he could see the future, and Naquin took a disgusting 2-strike pitch into the gap between 3B and SS for a nice single. Tito the White then sat Yan Gomes for AA-tested Francisco Mejia, who promptly grounded into a fielders’ choice. It was looking grim for the Indians, but they were able to turn the lineup card over for Francisco Lindor, who was 0-4 to that point, but who keeps ice water flowing in his veins.
One crack of the bat, one ball just out of the reach of Aaron Gordon later, and the score was suddenly 2-2. The crowd was going nuts.
After a mildly eventful top of the 10th, the Indians came to bat. Jose Ramirez turned a sure single into a double. The Royals pitched around Edwin Encarnacion, and Jay Bruce ended the game and sent everyone home happy. Just like they drew it up, right?
The Indians are one of the savviest organizations in all of professional sports. Instead of bemoaning the rules of MLB which allowed players to walk for greener pastures (and greener paychecks), the Indians instead looked for market inefficiencies and for ways to lock up their players on the cheap. They first got Kipnis on a cheap deal (that looks not so great now, but it’s not like the Indians signed him for $20mil a year in free agency, and the deal can still look great if he rebounds in 2018, or hits a game-winning hit in the World Series), then they got Carrasco (suddenly one of the best pitchers in the world), then they got Jose Ramirez in the greatest coup in history that didn’t involve the Central Intelligence Agency.
Jose Ramirez won’t win the MVP this year unless the Astros lose out and Jose Altuve hits into two double plays a game, but Ramirez absolutely deserves it. He’s been the best player on the Indians all season (apologies to Kluber and Mr. Smile). He’s also Twenty-Four years old and signed for $21 million over the next four seasons. It’s insane.
The Indians intelligence allowed them to go out and get Edwin Encarnacion. It allows them pay for players, and it allows them to spend in other areas (especially in the minor league systems).
The Indians are winning not just because of luck… but because the Front Office put them in that spot, and continues to put them in that spot. Drafting, Talent Evaluation, and Contract Negotiation — the Indians are a team who draw every penny out of every crevice, and it’s turned them into the best team in baseball.
That’s right, of thirty teams in MLB, the Indians are number 1.