Cleveland has won 14 straight; Arizona has taken 13 in a row. But which team has been better over that stretch?
There's no team in baseball hotter than the Cleveland Indians. Or is there no team in baseball hotter than the Arizona Diamondbacks? Both can be true, thanks to the double-digit win streaks each has piled up over the last two weeks of the season and going into Thursday night. Both teams' last loss came back in August, with Cleveland riding a 14-game undefeated stretch, the longest such streak since these very same Indians did it last year. Arizona, meanwhile, has taken 13 straight from its various foes, setting a new franchise record for consecutive victories in the process.
Each team is on fire, and each team is very good. But whose winning streak is more impressive? Let's break it down using some high-level math.
Who's Won The Most Games?
Okay, maybe not high-level math. Still, this is an easy one: Cleveland's won 14 games, and Arizona's won 13. Round one goes to the Indians.
Who's Had The Tougher Schedule?
The Indians started their streak against some legitimate competition, beating the Red Sox once, then sweeping the wild-card-contending Royals and wild-card-leading Yankees, three games each. Since then, though, it's been nothing but cupcakes, first with four against the fourth-place Tigers right as they got rid of Justin Upton and Justin Verlander, then three against the rebuilding and last-place White Sox, with the fourth and final game of that series on Thursday night. Nearly half of their win streak, in other words, has been against the dregs of the AL Central.
The Diamondbacks have gotten their share of bottom-feeders, too: Their first win came against the Mets, followed by a trio of victories against the putrid Giants. But it's been all tough sledding since then, including six wins against the Dodgers, who were well on their way toward "best team ever" status before Arizona tripped them up. Mixed in with Los Angeles was a three-game set against the Rockies, who at that point were right behind the D-backs in the NL wild card race. That gives Arizona the edge in this one.
Who's Done More to Improve Their Playoff Hopes?
When the Indians tacked up win No. 1 back on Aug. 24, they had a healthy 5 1/2-game lead on the Twins in the AL Central and were firmly in control of their own postseason destiny; Baseball Prospectus gave them a 99.1% chance of making the playoffs. Since then, that division lead has gone from "safe" to "completely locked up," with Cleveland now leading Minnesota by a whopping 11 games; as expected, their BP playoff odds are now an even 100%.
Arizona's position was much shakier than Cleveland's, by virtue of the Dodgers' gigantic lead for first place in the NL West and their barely-there advantage of half-a-game over the Rockies for the first NL wild card when their streak began (coincidentally, also on Aug. 24). But thanks to the total lack of wild-card competition behind Colorado, the D-backs were still in good shape, odds-wise, with BP putting their chances at 89.4% And like Cleveland (and thanks to a slump on the Rockies' part), that lead is much larger now, with Arizona now ahead of Colorado by 7 1/2 games. The Diamondbacks, then, are also postseason locks at 100% by BP's math.
(By the way, it's very funny that the Diamondbacks have won 13 straight games while the Dodgers have gone 3–11 in that same span, thus cutting Los Angeles' division lead in half—and yet Arizona is *still* 10 1/2 games back of first place in the NL West.)
Both teams have made their paths to October automatic, but if anyone gets the nod, it's the Indians for sealing the deal in the AL Central and thus not having to worry about the indignity of the wild-card game.
Who's Performed Better Over the Streak?
Unsurprisingly for a team that hasn't lost in two weeks, the Indians have been a wrecking ball, piling up 97 runs (a very nice average of 6.9 per game) and allowing only 26. That includes four shutouts and a three-game sweep of the Royals in which Kansas City literally didn't score a single run over 27 innings. By comparison, Arizona's 80 runs scored (or 5.7 per contest) looks positively pathetic. The Diamondbacks have been equally stingy pitching-wise, though, limiting their opponents to 27 runs across the streak—and keep in mind, that includes six games against the Dodgers and three games against the Rockies at Coors Field. So while Cleveland has the edge offensively, Arizona has faced the tougher task on the mound. Let's call this a draw.
Who's Got the Best Win During the Streak?
The Indians haven't had to do much in the way of rallying or narrow escapes amid their streak. Their closest call was a game against the Tigers on Sept. 1, when they broke a 2–2 tie in the top of the ninth, and they went six straight games without even trailing before falling behind 4–3 against the White Sox on Tuesday. That was probably their toughest win, as starter Danny Salazar was knocked out in the first, but the bullpen was able to hold Chicago off the board from there, and the offense rallied back in a 9–4 victory.
Arizona, on the other hand, narrowly survived a Dodgers comeback attempt on Aug. 29 in a 7–6 win that probably stopped a few hearts in Phoenix; again escaped a few late-inning rallies the very next day in a 6–4 victory over L.A.; and then pummeled the Dodgers in a 13–0 blowout on Sept. 4 in which starter Robbie Ray was perfect through five innings and ended up with 14 strikeouts in 7 2/3 frames. Those are all worthy of a highlight reel. The D-backs win this round.
Both teams each get a category and tied one, so they're even in my book. The math has proved it: Each team is equally impressive, and the only way to settle this is for both to meet in the World Series. Make it happen, Rob Manfred.