On Tuesday night, the Cleveland Indians won their 20th game in a row, tying the American League record held by the 2002 Oakland Athletics. They’re 1 win shy of the Major League record, set by the Chicago Cubs in 1935, but even if they don’t get the overall mark, what the Indians have done the last few weeks is nothing short of spectacular. Their last loss, on August 23 to the Boston Red Sox, but since then, the Indians have become the platonic ideal of what the team could be; this is the same team that took the Cubs to the limit in the World Series last year, but better. At the center of the resurgence has been Puerto Rican shortstop stud Francisco Lindor, who shook off a summer slump to turn into the MVP candidate that everyone believed he would be at the start of the season. The scary part? Lindor only seems to be improving as the winning streak goes on.
Since Cleveland’s last loss, Lindor has bumped up his batting average by a full 10 points (from .266 to .276), on the back of going 28 for his last 78 at bats (.359) during the win streak. That in and of itself is a marked improvement over, say, his June number (.214). In fact, Lindor’s numbers are up almost across the board; his OPS for the month of September so far (1.199) is higher than any other stretch this season, and he’s even walking more, with 7 base-on-balls in only 12 games. And this is not even to mention his defense, which continues to be elite level in the middle of the Indians infield, alongside his Dominican second base counterpart, Jose Ramirez. If Cleveland had this Lindor all year, or even a slightly worse one, they would be challenging the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in baseball.
However, it’s not just the numbers that have backed up Lindor’s recent surge; he’s also hitting when it matters for the Indians. One need only look at Cleveland’s 20th win in a row, a 2-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday. As the team gets further into the streak, surely nerves will take over, but Lindor made sure to calm them right away by hitting a leadoff homer off of Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd. A steady performance by the rest of the side, along with a Carlos Santana run off a wild pitch, helped Cleveland tie the 2002 As’ streak with a 2-0 W over their division rivals.
What does this mean for Lindor and Cleveland the rest of the way? Thanks to the streak, and the Houston Astros’ recent inconsistent play, the Indians now hold homefield advantage for the American League playoffs; that’s a big deal, as Cleveland is 41-29 at Progressive Field, although it might not matter in the end, as they are also 48-27 away from home. Knowing that any game 7s they face in the playoffs will be in the comfort of their own ballpark is worth its weight in gold, however, and with confidence riding high after so thoroughly dominating baseball the past month, the Indians should be considered, at worst, the World Series co-favorites, along with the recently-catastrophic Dodgers.
Perhaps the scariest part for opponents will be Lindor’s offensive resurgence, though, and that’s one of the key factors that would propel a return trip to the Series, if not also a title that has eluded Cleveland since 1948. If the Indians can get MVP-level performances from its leadoff star, opponents will be on the backfoot early in playoff games. With how suffocating Cleveland’s bullpen and defense have proven to be, that might be enough to avenge last year’s 3-1 collapse and bring the city its second major title in two years.