It took the Cleveland Indians some time to once again look like the team that came so close to winning the World Series in 2016, but they're here now. On May 28, they were the furthest behind in the AL Central they've been all year, sitting three back of the Twins with a 25-23 record and a run differential of just +16. Following their fifth win in a row though, the Indians are 74-56, 6.5 up on the Twins, and suddenly looking like they're the best team in the American League.
It took Cleveland some time to get there, but consider this: Everyone knew their start was slow and uncharacteristic, and they've followed up on it looking a lot more like the team everyone expected them to be. The Indians have gone 49-33 since that season low point in late-May, good for a .598 winning percentage, and their run differential in that 82-game stretch is +133. The Astros, who currently hold the best record in the AL, have a run differential for the season of +156, while the Red Sox, the AL East leaders, are at a respectable-but-dwarfed +87.
Edwin Encarnacion has looked like the slugger the Indians wanted to sign since this stretch began: He's hit .255/.383/.529 in those 80 games he played in. He's far from alone, however, as Cleveland as a team has batted .265/.340/.453 during this 82-game run ... and have done so at a time that their starting pitchers, collectively, have an ERA of 3.34 with 10.6 strikeouts per nine and a 4.3 K/BB. Throw in the relievers limiting opponents to a .235/.298/.376 line — just slightly better than what the starters have done — and Cleveland's stellar run differential over 82 games makes even more sense.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox's lineup and the Astros' pitching just aren't consistent enough, and while you could argue that the Indians' overall 2017 picture matches them up with those two, that's not entirely accurate. Houston's problems have only increased as the year has gone on, with a 10-15 August where they've been outscored by two runs being especially problematic after a quiet trade deadline. The Sox were always going to have some issues hitting after David Ortiz retired, and we've seen that play out to the point that Eduardo Nuñez might be pushing Hanley Ramirez out of a job soon just in case he and Mitch Moreland are better options.
The Indians, though, were wonderful in 2016, swapped out Mike Napoli for Edwin Encarnacion, and just took a couple of months to get going. The Cleveland team you see now is the one we always expected, just like the pitching-thin Astros and sometimes-questionable Red Sox lineup are the teams we expected. Cleveland likely has the AL's best team, but given everything we knew about them from 2016 and the offseason, that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
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