The 2017 Major League Baseball regular season ended in anticlimactic fashion on Sunday, with all playoff spots and postseason seeding already secured before the start of play. One hundred and sixty-two games have been started and completed and now, the luckiest ten teams have survived the long haul and get a chance to play for it all.
For the Cleveland Indians, Sunday was just one final roadblock to get past before the real fun begins. More specifically, the Indians’ year-long defense of the American League pennant now reaches a true fevered pitch, with four challengers standing between the Tribe and a second consecutive American League crown.
Meaningful October baseball will once again take place on the shores of Lake Erie, and it’s a truly wonderful thing.
In a record-breaking season, the Indians have given the city of Cleveland the championship contenders it deserves. From a baseball perspective, the Tribe has achieved something this season rarely accomplished in its 117-year history – consecutive postseason berths.
While sports talk radio in the city will belabor the continued struggles of the team’s National Football League team to the point of audibly-induced migraines on another therapy Monday, the Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers prepare for the start of the National Basketball Association schedule later in the month. The Cavs ended the city’s title drought two Junes ago, but the Browns have completed just two winning seasons, one playoff berth (in the worst of the two winning seasons, no less), and a combined 88-204 (.301) record in 19 seasons of NFL action on the lake shore.
Meanwhile, the Indians await their opponent for their American League Division Series matchup on Thursday night, hoping that this postseason is the one that they can capture the title that the team deserved in 1954 and 1995 and saw slip through its fingers in 1997 and 2016.
The Indians finished this season with a 102-60 record (.630), the second-best record in MLB this season and the second-best mark in franchise history from a wins perspective (1954; 111). Their win percentage, thanks to shorter schedules in the past, put them in line for the fourth-best percentage of wins in team history (1954, .721; 1995, .694; 1920, .636). They did so with an incredible run after the All-Star break, when they won 55 of 75 games (.733) and outscored opponents 397-217 (+180), far better than their first half results (+74) while going 47-40 (.540).
The last time that the Indians sat at the .500 mark during the 2017 campaign was incidentally after a loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 14 in the middle game of a three-game weekday set with the top club in the National League, a team that they would nearly chase down on the final weekend of the season for the best record in baseball. After dropping a 6-4 decision to the Dodgers, the second place Indians fell to 31-31 at the 62-game mark with 100 games left on the calendar.
All they did the rest of the season from that point was go 71-29.
It started by salvaging the finale from the Dodgers as Josh Tomlin and the Tribe rattled off a 12-5 win. It was the first of six straight wins and a stretch of eight wins in nine games. The Indians would lose four games, wrapped around the All-Star break, but that would be the longest losing stretch for the rest of the season. They won nine straight games from July 21 to July 29, completing a perfect 7-0 homestand with a pair of walk-off victories. They won six straight road games in the middle of August during an 8-3 road trip against contenders Tampa, Boston, Minnesota, and Kansas City.
Then, on August 24, they rocked Chris Sale in a 13-6 win and decided for the next 21 games to follow that losing was not in their DNA. Their incredible run through the final week of August and the first two weeks of September was historic as the team shattered its franchise record 14-game winning streak (established just over one year prior), busted the American League record of 20 (set by the 2002 Oakland Athletics), then surpassed the modern Major League record of 21 (forged by the 1935 Chicago Cubs).
Even after that memorable run ended, the team did not roll over from the pressure of it all. Following the September 15 loss, the Tribe won five straight before a second Friday loss on September 22. That one required a walk-off homer by the Mariners in Seattle.
The Indians have done the job behind a Cy Young-worthy performance from Corey Kluber, overshadowed efforts from Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, a strikeout total from the pitching staff unmatched in baseball history, a trio of 17-game winners, six walk-off wins, several incredible winning streaks, five All-Stars coached by their own coaching staff at the Midsummer Classic in Miami, big production from the additions of Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce, and a pair of seasons from two young home grown infielders in Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor that will undoubtedly garner both votes in the league’s Most Valuable Player balloting.
The success did not come without its struggles, as three of the team’s five starting pitchers to start the season landed on the disabled list for significant periods of time. The team also went long stretches without four All-Stars past and present (Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Kluber, and Andrew Miller), endured slow starts from Encarnacion, Kipnis, Lindor, and Carlos Santana, and could not, for the life of them, figure out how to defeat the National League in interleague play (posting a 6-14 mark against Arizona, Cincinnati, Colorado, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco). They even had to play without Terry Francona for a time while he dealt with his own health issues away from the team.
Regardless of the ups and downs, it has been a heck of a journey this season, but the party is just getting started. All of the wins have equated to a truly memorable and magical season, one that seems almost destined to challenge the 69-year run without a World Series trophy being driven through downtown Cleveland.
While the Indians have already knocked out 102 wins, they still have eleven more wins to go to achieve immortality.
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images