Yes, with the way we’ve done things to this point, the Houston Astros should be next. However, given the fact that they won the World Series, we’ll hold off and move to the next team in line, which is the 102-60 Cleveland Indians.
Behind an American League record 22-game winning streak, the Indians easily won the AL Central by 17 games. With a two-game lead over the Kansas City Royals on July 31, the Indians went on a tear to finish the season 45-13. During that stretch, the Indians lost back-to-back games three times, but never lost three in a row.
Something we’ll notice as we get to the top-tier teams of Major League Baseball is that these teams that were successful offensively have gone away from any attempt to hit the ball on the ground and are trying to hit it in the air instead. The Indians are no exception to this rule. Cleveland put 55.8 percent of batted balls in the air via fly ball or line drive. How did this work out? From balls hit in the air, the Indians hit for a .397 team average and drove in 81.4 percent of their run total, which obviously skews a bit because it includes RBIs from home runs.
When a team wins the way the Indians did, offense isn’t likely to be enough to do the trick. In fact, Cleveland’s pitching was even better than its offense. The Indians led MLB in pitching with a staff ERA of 3.30 and a 3.98 strike out to walk ratio. What does that say about this lockdown pitching staff? Abandon all hope ye who enter the batter’s box, because you weren’t going anywhere. If you did make it to first base, there’s a good chance you weren’t making it around to score.
Of the six pitchers who saw at least 15 starts, five won at least 10 games. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer each won 18, 18, and 17 games, respectively. Despite all of the “Bauer Outage” puns on the Indians’ social media (quality follow), Kluber was the one who was lights out with a 2.25 ERA.
Behind every no-hitter and perfect game, there’s nine innings of phenomenal defense. The same can be said for the Indians’ season. Quality defense helped a dominant pitching staff become nearly untouchable. The Indians led the AL with just 76 errors and a .987 fielding percentage.
Shortstop Francisco Lindor was brilliant on defense with just 10 errors on the season, third among AL shortstops. Although, he did have far more defensive chances than the two ahead of him and blew them away with a .984 fielding percentage.
There’s no reason the Indians shouldn’t contend for the AL pennant this season. The exits of first baseman Carlos Santana and right fielder Jay Bruce will definitely hurt, but newcomer first baseman Yonder Alonso should help. However, the entire pitching staff returns for 2018, so that will alleviate most of the offensive pressure. I don’t expect the Indians to win 100 games again, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ll take them to win the AL Central easily.
Photo by Brigham Berthold