The Cleveland Indians set an American League record on Wednesday by winning their 21st consecutive game, becoming one of just three major league teams to go that long without a loss in the last 101 years. And if you measure streaks in terms of dominance, they may already be on top.
The 5-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers puts the Indians in the class of the 1935 Chicago Cubs, who also won 21 straight, and the 1916 New York Giants, who went 26 straight games without a loss, with a little help from a 1-1 tie against the Pittsburgh Pirates that came 12 victories into the streak.
The Indians can surpass the 1935 Cubs’ winning streak on Thursday night, when they host the Kansas City Royals.
Cleveland has not lost since Aug. 23, and along the way has outscored its opponents by an incredible 106 runs. For comparison, the 1935 Cubs outscored their opponents by 86 runs during their 21-win streak, and the 2002 Oakland Athletics, whose AL record the Indians have broken, outscored their opponents by 76 runs in a 20-game spree.
Comparing the streaks of the Cubs and the Indians paints a portrait of two wildly different eras of baseball. There are some striking similarities, like the Indians scoring 139 runs so far compared to the Cubs’ 137, and the Indians having 226 hits compared to the Cubs’ 227.
But that is where things start to break away in terms of box score statistics. Perhaps the starkest differences are in home runs and strikeouts, both of which are far more numerous these days. The Indians have hit 41 home runs during the streak, including a three-run blast by Jay Bruce in the first inning on Wednesday, compared to the nine that the Cubs hit 82 years ago. Meanwhile, the Indians’ batters have struck out 141 times in their streak compared to only 57 for the Cubs.
On the pitching side, the Indians pitchers have struck out 193 batters while the Cubs’ opponents fanned just 91 times.
The question going forward for the Indians, of course, will be what this streak means for their postseason prospects. As any fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers can tell you, dominance can be fleeting. That team was 91-36 on Aug. 25, but has gone 2-16 since, entering Wednesday night’s game against the San Francisco Giants.
So for the Indians, who lost the World Series in dramatic fashion last season and have not won a title since 1948, the biggest objective will be to avoid a Dodgers-like letdown just as the postseason is arriving.
In that respect, the 1935 Cubs again provide an interesting comparison. They rode their streak almost right into the World Series (remember, there were no league playoffs then), getting their 21st straight win in the third-to-last game of the regular season before having the streak end in an extra-inning loss on Sept. 28.
At that point, it seemed as if everything was clicking at the right time for the Cubs, a team that was already 27 seasons into a championship drought that would eventually extend until 2016. But momentum proved fickle, and the Cubs ran into a buzz saw of a pitching staff from the Detroit Tigers. Chicago ended up losing the World Series in six games, with Schoolboy Rowe and Tommy Bridges simply being too much for their Cubs hitters to handle.
The Indians (90-56) still have plenty of baseball left to play before they find themselves in the postseason and even now do not have the best record in baseball — the Dodgers (93-52) still do despite their big slump. Nor are the Indians even assured of finishing with the best record in the American League, since the Houston Astros (87-57) are right behind them.
But Cleveland does have a huge lead in the American League Central, which will allow it to rest players as the postseason nears and let injured players take extra time in getting back on the field. For now, the Indians can enjoy the winning streak as long as it lasts. They just have to make sure a losing streak does not follow, not with the postseason looming weeks away.