With a relatively close division race, now is the time for the Cleveland Indians to distance themselves from the pack.
Coming off an AL Pennant-winning 2016 campaign, the Cleveland Indians were the (very) heavy favorite to take the AL Central crown in 2017. After a mediocre first two months of the season, combined with a surprisingly good start from the Minnesota Twins, there was definitely some decreasing positivity about how the rest of the year would play out.
However, here we are in early August. Cleveland sits pretty atop the division with a slowly increasing lead, one that the team has maintained since late-June despite dropping five of the first six games to start the second half.
Sparked by a nine-game winning streak near the end of July (and
finding his stroke), the Indians are set to pull away from the rest of their division rivals.
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Per baseball-reference.com, Lindor’s first-half struggles can likely be traced to his .260 BABIP, which is significantly lower than his .318 career BABIP average. Since the all-star break, that number is up to .377, spearheading his increased production, including a .946 second-half OPS.
That, along with the consistent dominance from ace Corey Kluber, has put Cleveland in a position to repeat some of last year’s success.
As expected, Minnesota has cooled off considerably, now sitting at 54-56, 5.5 games behind Cleveland. The Kansas City Royals sit just three games out of the division, but an injury to Salvador Perez is likely to derail their recent success.
Perez’s injury could impact the Royals enough to the point that they could be all but finished in the AL Central race.
While the Royals and Twins may not look too threatening at the moment, a team can never have too big of a lead when heading into the stretch run of the regular season. While Andrew Miller‘s recent injury is less than ideal, this is still a perfect opportunity for the Indians to gain some important momentum.
Electrifying rookie Bradley Zimmer has been a catalyst for Cleveland, with the team averaging over five runs per game since his mid-May call-up. On the mound, Danny Salazar has been lights-out since his return from the DL.
Per baseball-reference.com, in three starts, he boasts a minuscule 1.35 ERA along with 28 punch-outs. The Indians may not flirt with 95 wins like they did in 2016, but this season is still shaping up to be a success.
With a strong August, Cleveland can just about lock-up this division and look ahead to October. There, they should repeat as AL Champions and it won’t come without some incredible competition.