The Cleveland Indians (45-30) do not even have to play their best to keep their current 10-game winning streak alive. On Monday, the Tribe did not play their best game of June, yet still ran away from the Atlanta Braves (26-50) during a 8-3 victory. Trevor Bauer had his shortest outing of June— a mere six innings, giving up three walks and two runs. The offense scuttled early outside of Francisco Lindor, Mike Napoli, and Lonnie Chisenhall. And, it was the Braves making the incredible highlight-worthy plays in the field. Yet, the Indians opened up a small early lead and kept adding to it throughout the game. By the end of the game, Monday's contest looked like so many others with the Indians cruising to another W.
From the depths of May to the heights of June
The Indians season has not always gone this smoothly though. The end of May was a bit of a tough stretch for the Indians.
- Indians ended May with three straight losses and had lost four of five going 9-for-47 with RISP in those games.
- The Tribe had no walk-off victories in April or May.
- Michael Brantley reinjured himself after just 11 games played.
- Marlon Byrd was suspended for 162 games.
- Carlos Carrasco was still out with a bad hamstring.
- Chisenhall had just hit his first home run of the season on the last day of May in a 7-3 loss to the Texas Rangers.
- Also, in previous game, Josh Tomlin suffered a bad loss 9-2, Terry Francona was ejected, and rookie Ryan Merritt pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings after a waiting to pitch for a week (then was promptly sent back down to the Columbus Clippers).
- Kansas City Royals were in first place in the AL Central division and coming to town for a three-game set.
- Chicago White Sox were in second place in the AL Central division as the Indians (26-24) teetered around .500 in third place just ahead of the Detroit Tigers.
June has been a bit of a different story.
- MLB best 19-6 record
- 15 games over .500
- +86 run differential second best in MLB; best in AL by 24 runs
- Four walk-off victories
- 10 wins by at least five runs
- 12 games allowing two runs or less (11-1)
- 16 games scoring at least five runs (16-0)
- Four game sweep of Royals, Three game sweeps of White Sox and Tigers
- 24-10 AL Central division record
- First-place AL Central Indians have a five game divisional lead
Don't slight the offense
There has been much talk about the pitching, but the offense has been no slouch for the Indians in June. The Tribe is averaging over five runs per game from reaching base over 12 times. The team has also become adept to obtaining extra bases nearly five times a game (4.4) whether they be directly from hits or stolen. While the aggressive baserunning does lead into plays such as Lindor getting picked off on Monday, it also puts undue pressure on the opposition.
Francisco Lindor has led the offense behind a huge month (161 wRC+, 6 HR, .330/.385/.615, 1.5 WAR). Tyler Naquin has matched Lindor in home runs despite having 38 less plate appearances as he has earned his spot on the 25-man roster (224 wRC+, 6 HR, .339/.422/.821, .482 ISO). Carlos Santana has led the team in home runs during the month with seven. Rajai Davis leads the team for the month with 10 stolen bases.
In all, the Indians boast five players above 120 wRC+ for June (Lindor, Naquin, Kipnis, Santana, Chisenhall) and another three players over 100. Basically, any Indians hitter not named Jose Ramirez, Juan Uribe, and Yan Gomes has been a better than average MLB hitter this month. And, even those guys have had their moments such as Uribe's four home runs in four games stretch.
Having an offense without signficant black holes killing rallies and allowing opposing pitchers to find their rhythm has been a huge boon to this offense.
Starters dropping jaws
No Indians starter has an ERA above three in the month of June, which is ridiculous though the FIP numbers suggest Carrasco, Tomlin, and Salazar have benefited from a bit of good fortune. Even better, the pitching performances during the 10-game winning streak have included three complete game efforts and Carrasco appeared to be his dominant version on Saturday for the first time since returning from his hamstring injury.
WFNY's Jacob Rosen sent out the current championship probabilites ahead of Monday's game. As it sat (and likely only better with another win by significant margin in the books), the Indians had the second best probability of winning the World Series in MLB (to the Chicago Cubs) across all projection models. And, the Tribe was far ahead of any other American League ballclub with the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, and Baltimore Orioles all significantly trailing the Indians.
Now, it is important to note that some teams such as the Kansas City Royals (and the team most likely to continue to chase the Indians in the division) have consistently out-performed projection models. Also, taking the measure when the Indians could be at a specific peak in performance can tilt the projections in their favor (Just think about doing HR season estimates for Uribe after he hit those four home runs in four games. He was at a peak and not likely to maintain pace.).
However, it is also important to realize that this Indians team has been great in June and these models bear out those results. The Tribe is not merely winning games by close margins that will shift the other way, but they are destroying teams. Because baseball, it is incredibly difficult to dominate even bad teams, yet the Indians are running through and sweeping even the mediocre ones. The Indians are likely to hit another bad stretch (see the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox recent results), but we should enjoy these wins as they are demonstrating this can be a special type of team.