The winning streak is nice, but Cleveland eyes bigger prize

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CHICAGO — You know how the ’27 Yankees are the default choice for any all-time great hypothetical, such as when a manager might say something like, “When Nuke LaLoosh is hitting his spots, the ’27 Yankees couldn’t beat him.”

The funny thing about that is the ’27 Yankees might not even be the best team in that franchise’s history. There is a good argument that it’s actually the 1939 Yankees. Why in the heck am I mentioning that now? Because the 2017 Cleveland Indians are currently playing like those ’39 Yankees. Not that they are impressed with themselves.

Cy Young contender Corey Kluber struck out 13 on Thursday as the Indians established a franchise record with their 15th straight win, an 11-2 thrashing of the Chicago White Sox. Fifteen wins in a row, the last 11 of which came on a perfect 11-0 road trip. That’s eye-popping, but I haven’t even given you the good stuff.

“It’s fun, obviously,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “It’s been a productive road trip, I’ll give you that. Other than that, I just think there’s other things that hopefully we get caught up in. Like our defense being better.”

Here’s the really good stuff: According to Elias, the Indians have outscored their opponents by 81 runs during the win streak. That’s winning by an average of 5.4 runs per game. Heck, the San Francisco Giants have won only 13 games by five or more runs this entire season.

You know the last team to be so dominant over a 15-game stretch? Yep, it’s the 1939 Yankees. Cleveland is only the fifth team in 100 years to be that dominant for over 15 games.

“The winning streak is enjoyable and I think it’s gotten people’s attention, which gives me a chance to brag on our guys a little, which I love,” Francona said. “Other than that, we’ll go play tomorrow. The Orioles are already sitting back home waiting for us.”

The road part of the streak is only nominally shocking. The Indians have now won an MLB-high 48 road games, just four shy of the franchise mark set by the pennant-winning Cleveland club in 1954. Of course, that’s not the kind of thing they’d notice.

“I didn’t even know that until you told me,” Francona said.

When a team has won 15 straight games, it’s safe to assume it’s clicking in all facets of the game. That has been the case for Cleveland, but when it comes to the road success, you really have to look no further than the starting pitching.

For Kluber, that was his 14th outing this season when he has reached double digits in strikeouts. Like Carlos Carrasco on Tuesday, Kluber went heavy on the breaking stuff. After giving up early homers to Yolmer Sanchez and Jose Abreu when he was trying to establish his fastball, he went to the soft stuff more than he ever has.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kluber threw fastballs only 25 percent of the time Thursday, the lowest he has ever had in a start. Just a public service note to the American League: If you’re playing the White Sox, go heavy on the breaking stuff, because watching their current club try to hit it is like watching someone trying to eat broth with a fork.

Anyway, after pitching his club to a record-breaking win and running up all those K’s, you’d be wrong if Kluber was impressed with his individual contribution.

“The constants [with last year’s team] are just good hitting and good pitching,” Kluber said. “All of that cliché stuff. We’ve strung that together for a couple of weeks now.”

Star shortstop Francisco Lindor came within a double of the cycle, leading off the game with a triple and following that in the second inning with his 27th homer. Was he at least impressed?

Kind of. But not especially.

“It’s lots of fun,” Lindor said. “Not just because we won all of the games, but because everybody is contributing. Everyone is doing what they are supposed to do. The whole team is having fun.”

In Kluber, Carrasco and Mike Clevinger, the Indians have three of baseball’s top 20 pitchers in road ERA. As a team, the Indians’ 3.49 road ERA leads the AL, as does their 3.71 road starter ERA.

During the perfect road trip, the Indians allowed a total of only 22 runs in the 11 games. And since that came on the heels of Cleveland’s three-game, weekend shutout of the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field, the Indians have given up 22 runs over 14 games. That’s dead ball era stuff.

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, as much as anything, what stands out about the surging Indians is how unfazed they seem by it all. Maybe that’s not so surprising. After coming so close to winning it all last season, there’s not much that could impress Cleveland beyond winning one more postseason game.

“It’s a different year,” Kluber said. “We have the experience of last year’s team to fall back on. But other than that, we have different guys on the roster. The one constant is playing good baseball and doing little things that add up to wins.”

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