Indians Clinch AL Central with 15-0 Blowout Win vs. Tigers

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2018

Cleveland Indians' Francisco Lindor celebrates after hitting a walk-off three run home run off Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Trevor Hildenberger during a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, in Cleveland. The Indians won 5-2. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

The Cleveland Indians are headed to the playoffs for the third straight season as American League Central champions. 

They secured their latest division title with a 15-0 win over the Detroit Tigers on Saturday at Progressive Field. 

All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor set the pace with a leadoff homer against Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer. Cleveland racked up six runs in the first inning and 11 through two frames. 

Since Major League Baseball expanded to six divisions in 1994, the Indians' 10 AL Central titles are four more than any of the other four clubs. 

The Indians have been on cruise control in the Central since June 20, which is the last date their lead was five games or fewer. They are the only team in the division that isn't at least 10 games under .500. 

While Cleveland has assured itself another chance to compete for a World Series title, this has been a different season for manager Terry Francona to navigate than 2016 and 2017. Relief stalwarts Andrew Miller and Cody Allen haven't been as reliable. 

Miller has only appeared in 30 games because of three stints on the disabled list. Allen is on pace to post the worst ERA (4.06) of his career and highest WHIP (1.32) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.6) since his rookie season of 2012.

The front office added Brad Hand and Adam Cimber in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres to boost a bullpen that had a 5.28 ERA before the All-Star break. It made another splash Aug. 31 by acquiring 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Despite those relief struggles, Cleveland has played well thanks to continued success from AL MVP candidates Jose Ramirez and Lindor. That duo has hit 73 homers with 187 RBI and 55 stolen bases. 

The Indians' starting rotation remains among the best in Major League Baseball. Their 3.41 ERA ranks second in the AL, trailing only the Houston Astros (3.21). If that holds, it will be the franchise's third straight year finishing with a top-two ERA in the AL. 

Going by FanGraphs' wins above replacement, the Indians have four of the top seven AL starters. Trevor Bauer—who's out with a leg injury but is expected back for the postseason—ranks first at 5.9. He's followed by Corey Kluber (4.8) at No. 5, Carlos Carrasco at No. 6 (4.7) and Mike Clevinger at No. 7 (4.1). 

After leading the AL with 102 victories last season, the Indians haven't generated the same buzz in 2018 because the Astros, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees could all win 100 games. 

Francona and his coaching staff have built a team capable of winning a World Series. Their starting rotation can dominate opposing lineups. If Miller can play well after his latest shoulder injury and Allen can get back on track, they will have bullpen depth with Hand as the stabilizing force. 

Brantley, Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion have excellent track records with the potential to provide additional pop in the lineup.

The Indians own the longest World Series drought in MLB at 69 years. They can end that when they start their playoff run next month. 

Related

    Comerica Worker Charged After Spitting on Pizza

    MLB logo
    MLB

    Comerica Worker Charged After Spitting on Pizza

    Tim Daniels
    via Bleacher Report

    Indians Trends Heading Toward the ALDS

    Cleveland Indians logo
    Cleveland Indians

    Indians Trends Heading Toward the ALDS

    Let's Go Tribe
    via Let's Go Tribe

    Harper: I'd 'Love' to Remain with Nationals

    MLB logo
    MLB

    Harper: I'd 'Love' to Remain with Nationals

    Matt Snyder
    via CBSSports.com

    MLB Awards Odds with 1 Week to Play 🏆

    Cleveland Indians logo
    Cleveland Indians

    MLB Awards Odds with 1 Week to Play 🏆

    Zachary D. Rymer
    via Bleacher Report