Cleveland Indians: The Worst-Best Team in Baseball

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Cleveland Indians: The Worst-Best Team in Baseball
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Carlos Santana's Walk Off Felt A Bit Like 1995...

Remember one week ago when the Cleveland Indians were like, totally headed in a tailspin to the bottom of the AL Central?

You don't? I'll remind you.

As of last Monday morning, the Indians had lost three straight games to division rivals and were most certainly teetering on the brink of an unmitigated death march through the remainder of the 2011 season.

Playoffs? Ha. As of a week ago, you'd have been lucky if the team wasn't moved to Columbus by nightfall.

And then everything changed. The Indians did the unthinkable. They won. A game. They didn't just beat the odds though, they won in grand fashion—hitting home runs! Multiple!

And it didn't stop there. The Indians put the Royals in their place with a series sweep and unceremoniously moved on to the Tigers who, you guessed it, they swept.

Currently, the Indians are the hottest team in Major League Baseball making them the Worst-Best team out there.

So what do we take away from this?

The Indians are, at least for now, for real. Given how the Indians have played in April, there is a shot that they could be at least somewhat relevant come the end of September. According to a great article by Fangraphs, the Indians are on pace to win 86 or 87 games if they finish out the season with a .500 winning percentage. In order to overtake the Tribe, at that pace, the Twins and Sox would need a winning percentage of close to .600 (.586) to do that.

In Sum: A stellar April and weak showings by the White Sox, Tigers, and Twins was HUGE for the Indians.

 

The Indians Have to Capitalize in May like they did in April. I've noted before that the Indians schedule in April was rated by ZiPS as their easiest month of the season. That said, the Indians took advantage of their April schedule, sweeping five times (one more than they did all of 2010). The result is a mind-blowing10-game lead over both Chicago and Minnesota.

If the Indians can seize upon a slightly harder—but very manageable—May schedule and open up more ground on AL Central opponents, they will be in a good spot for what is shaping up to be a tough June.

In June the Tribe faces Texas and the Rockies at home and goes on the road for series against the Yankees and the defending World Champion Giants.

That, added to the fact that experts (rightly) predict regressions from some of the blazing hot hitting and pitching we've been seeing, means that the Tribe could have some uphill battles before the Midsummer Classic.

 

The Indians may have that Killer Instinct. As a fan, we have to prepare for regressions (thus the Worst-Best moniker). The starting pitching's era is going to slowly rise toward their xFIP of 4.04 (thanks again, Fangraphs!) and the bats will cool down some.

The Indians just can't keep it up. I simply refuse to let myself believe that they could win 114 games (their pace as of today).

BUT, that said, this team, especially in the Tigers series, has shown that they're never out of the game. This, is one of those intangibles that can't find its way into a statsheet, but it has, in my short experience, proved to be a very real and contagious element of a winning team.

Look no further than the 1995 Indians who, through pure blood, sweat, and tears (Read: Steroids), won 25 games in their last at bat. 25 games!

(Aside:The 1995 Indians' come from behind wins can be documented in a classic VHS tape, Wahoo! What a Finish!...I'm sure it's on eBay somewhere.)

While the Indians' offense won't be nearly as potent as it was in 1995 (though at this pace, who knows), they may have a similar killer instinct. The hope is that the Indians continue playing with the same we-can-win attitude.

If they continue to do that, the time will soon come where we'll have to stop saying 'if' and start saying 'when'.

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