It’s not easy to write about a winning streak in an interesting fashion. There are only so many ways to say that a team is playing well, and those ideas are generally exhausted after about a week of victories. On Thursday, the Indians’ winning streak extended to 22 games with a 3-2, 10th-inning win over Kansas City, giving them the modern MLB winning-streak record. Cleveland’s ongoing streak isn’t just difficult to describe; with three full weeks of undefeated play, the Indians have completely broken baseball analysis.
They’ve also broken baseball, period, or at least its standard, six-month flow. The sport’s sinusoidal rhythms account for losses; they have to, in a game in which the difference between contending for the World Series and securing the no. 1 draft pick is about a single extra win every week. Losing is as much a part of the day-to-day conversation as the clichéd hope for next year, which itself is a common strain of thinking for historically unfortunate Cleveland fans: Did the manager mess up his bull pen chain? Should he bench a slumping player, or at least drop him in the order? Can we ever find a fifth starter who doesn’t squander leads?
But starting when Cleveland pummeled Chris Sale and the Red Sox in a 13-6 victory on August 24, the team has been too dominant, eschewing not only that meta drama, but also the in-game kind, which on most nights evaporated before the first groundskeeping sweep of Progressive Field’s infield dirt. In 13 of the 22 wins, the team has taken the lead for good in the first or second inning; only thrice, including Thursday, has that run come in the seventh or later. Nineteen times, Cleveland’s starter has doubled as the game’s winning pitcher; that 86 percent rate far exceeds the 2017 MLB average of 67 percent of games won by starters. For comparison, the last team to record 20 straight wins—the 2002 Moneyball A’s, whose AL streak record the Indians surpassed—required walk-offs in three consecutive games to reach that number.
Cleveland finally experienced that manner of in-game excitement on Thursday, in its first truly nerve-racking victory during the streak. With two outs in the ninth inning, Cleveland trailed by a run, but Francisco Lindor doubled home pinch-runner Erik González, and the Indians didn’t make an out in the 10th inning before August acquisition Jay Bruce delivered a walk-off liner into the rightfield corner. The rest of the Indians rushed their late-inning heroes; Progressive Field danced; baseball’s scribes etched a new name into the record books.
There is a fair amount of debate over whether the Indians now own the all-time record, as they passed the 1935 Cubs’ 21-gamer on Thursday, or if they still trail the 1916 Giants’ 26-game streak. Controversy arises because in the middle of that stretch, those Giants played a rain-shortened tie, before replaying that game—and winning—the next day.
Both the executive vice president at the Elias Sports Bureau and official MLB historian John Thorn say they consider 26 the record, though MLB has suggested it would consider Cleveland reaching 22 as setting the “modern” record. Considering how different the game was in 1916—for one, the rain-suspension rules have since changed; for another, the Giants won every one of those games at the Polo Grounds, as part of a 31-game homestand—that’s a reasonable distinction, if still confusing to parse.
Either way, much of Cleveland’s remarkable achievement is how easily it has accumulated its wins, and how thoroughly it’s dominated. At some point in this stretch, as the typical analytical angles frayed, it became most effective just to recite and revel in the extraordinary statistics that were unfolding. Consider: Cleveland’s baseball team has won 22 games in 22 days. Its football team has won 22 games since September 2011—a span of 94 games, 13 starting quarterbacks, and four head coaches.
The pitching staff has received much of the hype during the run, again for good reason. Cleveland has delivered seven shutouts during the streak, which is more than 13 teams—including contenders like Washington and the Yankees—have managed all season. On a team level, in 199 innings, the pitching staff has posted a 1.58 ERA and allowed 6.7 hits per 9 innings; for comparison, in 1994, peak Greg Maddux threw 202 innings, in which he posted a 1.56 ERA and allowed 6.7 hits per 9. On an individual basis, entering play Thursday, four of the top nine starters in ERA since August 24 (minimum 10 innings) throw for Cleveland. Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco, and Ryan Merritt have all recorded sub-1.00 ERAs in that span, and Corey Kluber comes close behind them with a 1.41 mark as he’s become the AL Cy Young favorite.
But the lineup deserves no less recognition for the pace it’s maintained, as both of those facets have meshed to produce a once-in-a-century streak. The Indians have hit more home runs than they’ve allowed total runs, and they’ve simultaneously recorded the most walks on offense and the fewest walks on the mound. They’ve run up a cumulative score of 142-37, averaging a five-run win every day; no other team since integration has outscored its opposition by so many runs over a 22-game stretch.
The team’s cumulative batting line during the streak is .306/.385/.552, meaning it boasted the equivalent lineup of nine Daniel Murphys, and the same individual pattern has emerged on offense as with pitching: Since August 24, Cleveland boasts four of the majors’ top nine batters by wRC+ (minimum 40 plate appearances). It’s not a shock to see José Ramírez, Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Santana near the top of an offensive leaderboard, but it is a special coincidence that they’ve all caught fire at the same time—and even moreso that backup catcher Roberto Pérez has joined them in laying waste to opposing pitchers.
The Indians have benefitted from contributions from both established and unexpected players for the entire streak, and none of the analysis has grown any more nuanced since yesterday, or the day before, or the week before that. Our Michael Baumann wrote as much on September 8. Not much has changed, except the numbers have gotten larger and more astounding, and not much has changed for the season’s end game, either. In the story of the 2017 MLB season, this streak won’t appear in the final chapter amid all the compelling October drama to come; Cleveland running up the score on a diminished Tigers team doesn’t teach us anything about its chances to return to the World Series or win a title this year. It might, however, stand as the coolest 2017 arc. Every year, a team wins the World Series, but few baseball fans have ever seen an equal to Cleveland’s latest accomplishment.