Indians ride winning streak to top of American League

Two members of the team that shall not be named slap handsThe Cleveland Indians have surpassed the Houston Astros as the top team in the American League, and all it took was a franchise-record winning streak. Cleveland defeated the Baltimore Orioles 3-2 on Sunday for its 18th straight victory, putting the Indians within reach of baseball’s all-time win streak record.

The Indians last lost on August 23rd. Five series sweeps later, they hold a commanding 13-game lead in the AL Central and are a game ahead of the Astros for the AL lead, which will determine home field advantage in the postseason. Houston is in a mini-slump, losing four straight, and Cleveland now has a large advantage over the Astros in run differential as well. The Indians have allowed the fewest runs in the AL, which is a testament to their elite pitching and defense, but power hitting has been the trademark of their streak.

Francisco Lindor and Roberto Perez hit back-to-back home runs in the sixth inning of Sunday’s game to lift Cleveland, raising the team’s home run total to 37 over the last 18 games. Lindor leads the way with eight of those homers, while Jose Ramirez has seven, and Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana each have five. The Indians have been an average power-hitting team for most of the season, but their 21 homers in September have them tied for the MLB lead, which bodes well for them if they can keep the hot streak going through to the playoffs.

The record for consecutive victories is 21, last achieved by the 1935 Chicago Cubs. The Oakland Athletics came close in 2002 with 20 straight wins—a streak that was immortalized by Hollywood in the film Moneyball (2011). Cleveland stands a real chance of besting both of those marks with an upcoming three-game series against the Detroit Tigers and a four-game set against the Kansas City Royals, both at home. The Indians already swept both the Tigers and the Royals on their streak, and starting a lights-out combination of Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, and Mike Clevinger against Detroit should be enough to tie the Cubs’ record, while Kansas City failed to record a run against Cleveland in their previous series. Reaching 25 straight wins appears entirely possible.

Cleveland suffered a minor blow in its win on Sunday when rookie outfielder Bradley Zimmer broke a bone in his left hand while sliding into first base. The extend of Zimmer’s injury is unclear, but barring complications he could be ready to return in a month, when the Indians should be in the midst of another long playoff run.