Why the Cleveland Indians Are the Best Team in Baseball
All season long, the Los Angeles Dodgers were unquestionably the best team in baseball. When you race out to a record of 91-36 and are threatening to win 110 baseball games, that's an easy assertion to make.
But L.A. has fallen on hard times of late, losers of 10 of their last 11 games, while their division rivals, the Arizona Diamondbacks, have won 13 in a row, including a three-game sweep of the Dodgers this week. And while the D-Backs are unquestionably scorching hot, they are not the team that can lay claim to being the toastiest -- or the best -- in baseball right now.
The defending American League champs, the Cleveland Indians, are on absolute fire. Winners of 14 in a row, the Tribe have pulled away from the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central, where they now hold an 11-game lead. More impressively, they're just three games behind the Houston Astros for the best record in the Junior Circuit.
The Indians are unlikely to overtake the Dodgers for the best record in baseball, but they have already caught L.A. in one crucial number - run differential. Entering play on Thursday, the Indians had the best in baseball (+190), just ahead of the Dodgers (+185) and Astros (+170).
The @Indians join the 1912-13 Giants and 1935-36 Cubs as the only clubs with win streaks of 14+ in CONSECUTIVE seasons. pic.twitter.com/g9YAqAxmma
â€” MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) September 7, 2017
As is the case with most any long winning streak, everyone is pitching in, but special attention must go to the starting rotation, which is proving to be one of the best in baseball yet again. Last night, Carlos Carrasco threw a complete game, three-hit shutout in which he struck out nine Chicago White Sox batters. He's 14-6 with a 3.53 ERA and a 3.28 fielding independent pitching (FIP) this season, and has struck out 27.9% of hitters faced.
In the second half, Carrasco has been worth 1.9 fWAR, tied for 5th-most among qualified starting pitchers, with a 3.67 ERA and a 3.12 FIP. But he's not even been the hottest starter on his own staff. Corey Kluber is making a second-half push to win the American League Cy Young Award, with an fWAR of 2.5 since the All-Star break that is the best in baseball. His ERA is a scant 2.27 over that stretch and he's whiffed 35.0% of batters faced since then.
After a rough start, Trevor Bauer appears to be figuring things out. His 1.2 fWAR in the second half is tied for 19th-most, with a 3.05 ERA and a 3.68 FIP. He has struck out 26.7% of batters since the All-Star break. Over the last 14 days, the Cleveland rotation has an ERA of 1.86 and an Major League best 4.2 fWAR.
Offensively, third baseman Jose Ramirez has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate. He's fourth in the American League in fWAR (5.2), behind Aaron Judge (5.8), Mike Trout (6.3), and Jose Altuve (6.4), and recently had a five-hit game in which all the hits went for extra bases (three doubles and two homers).
Carlos Santana has the second-highest weighted on base average (wOBA) among qualified American League players in the second half (.424), and Edwin Encarnacion isn't too much farther down the list at number 17 (.381). And then there's Francisco Lindor, whose 2.1 fWAR since the All-Star break is 6th-best in the American League -- just one spot ahead of Santana.
The only concern about the Indians at the moment is the health of all-world reliever Andrew Miller, who was such a vital part of their postseason run a year ago. He hasn't pitched since August 21 because of a knee problem, but may be close to returning. He threw a bullpen session on Wednesday, and the team is hoping to have him back later this month.
Cleveland may have gotten off to a slow start this year, but they caught fire at just the right time, thanks to a ridiculous starting rotation, a beastly lineup, and a bullpen that they hope will get one of the best relief arms in the game back within days.
They may never lose again.