- Cleveland prolonged its franchise record 15-game winning streak on Thursday night. Meahwhile, the Dodgers' woes continued.
The last two weeks-plus of baseball has occasioned two major questions: Will the Indians ever lose again, and will the Dodgers ever win? Yes and yes, we tell ourselves, knowing full well that streaks end. But Thursday night’s games came and went and brought us no closer to those outcomes.
Cleveland put an 11-2 hurting on the White Sox to stretch their winning streak to 15, while the Dodgers dropped their seventh in a row and twelfth of thirteen, to Colorado, 9-2. (We should pause here to note the Arizona Diamondbacks’ streak, 13 wins in a row, which went unextended Thursday night because Arizona was off. The Padres head to town for three starting Friday.)
The Indians rode to victory the arm of Corey Kluber (seven innings, two runs, 13 strikeouts) and the bat of Edwin Encarnacion (two for three with a three-run first-inning homer, which would be all the runs the Indians needed) in keeping with their recent success. Since the beginning of August, Kluber is 7-1 with a 1.92 ERA and two complete games in his eight starts. And Encarnacion, Cleveland’s major offseason free-agent splurge, has hit 11 homers since Aug. 11 with an OPS north of 1.000. The Indians’ record since that date? 24-4.
You don’t win 15 in a row, though, on the backs of just two players. Stellar work has come from the entire roster. Hurler-wise, Cookie Carrasco has pitched every bit as well as Kluber of late, with a 1.90 ERA in his last six starts, averaging more than seven innings an outing. Closer Cody Allen hasn’t allowed a run since Aug. 9. Even Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger have pitched like… well… not Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger, with an ERA of 2.51 in their last 11 starts combined.
Offensively, Cleveland can credit Jose Ramirez, who has hit .400 with seven homers since the streak began, in addition to Encarnacion. (He did sit Thursday night with a sore wrist; he shouldn’t miss beyond a game or two more.) Carlos Santana has picked up his pace, too, rediscovering his power stroke and in the process adding 30 points to his slugging percentage since August began. Jay Bruce and Austin Jackson have done well enough holding down outfield spots.
The lineup isn’t precisely fearsome—blame the injuries to Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley—but it is deep. The rotation, though, looks like it might be both.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, lost at home to the scuffling-in-their-own-right Rockies despite putting the best pitcher in the known universe, Clayton Kershaw, on the hill. Kershaw was tagged for six hits, three walks and four runs in three-and-two-thirds innings. Excluding a July outing against Atlanta that he departed early with an injury, it was the shortest start he’s made all year. The Dodgers’ offense was held to one run and six hits by Jon Gray and three relievers.
In their last 25 games the Dodgers have hit .225/.309/.362 with just 24 homers. Only the Padres, to whom Los Angeles lost three of four last weekend, have a lower team batting average in that span. Chase Utley, Enrique Hernandez, Logan Forsythe and waiver-trade addition Curtis Granderson seemingly forgot how to hit all at once. Stud rookie Cody Bellinger missed time with an injury, forcing Adrian Gonzalez (hitting .248 with two homers) into the lineup. The pitching hasn’t been horrible—aside from Pedro Baez and Yu Darvish, at least—but it has taken a meaningful step backward.
Gone is the Dodgers’ shot at the regular-season wins record. Were they to win out they’d hit only 114 wins, and given how things stand today it’s hard to see them coming close to winning out. They’re probably better off without a record to chase—having the accelerator on the floor throughout September can tire players for October—and despite having lost six in a row to Arizona their NL West crown is almost certainly secure. Surely, though, management doesn’t want to head into the playoffs without some sign of a turnaround.
There’s a lesson in here about timing. Baseball plays a long, consequential regular season during which the best teams show themselves as such. It follows up this season with a frenzied tournament that has as much to do with who’s hot when it’s cold out as it does with which team is superior, all things considered.
The Indians and Dodgers are both very good teams, and the Dodgers are probably a little bit better, all things considered, than the Indians. Had you checked in in early August, you might have said the Dodgers were an exceptional team and the Indians a so-so one. Had you paid attention only to the last month of baseball, you might have said the Indians were an all-time great team and the Dodgers an abysmal one. That presumably temporary turnabout has happened in twenty-some games—or less than the entirety of the playoffs. Just something to think about as enduring legends get written in the next eight weeks.