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Jim Ingraham: As good as the Indians have been the last two years, this year's team has a chance to be even better

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    While the Indians came within a game of a World Series title two years ago and ran off 22 straight wins last season, Chronicle columnist Jim Ingraham believes this year's team has what it takes to jump right past those two teams.

    AP

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It was the best of times. It was the most teasing of times.

It was this time of the season, one year ago.

On Aug. 27, 2017, the Indians extended their winning streak to four games with a 12-0 win over Kansas City, completing a three-game sweep in which the Indians outscored the Royals 20-0. That’s right, 20-0.

Three days later, the Indians completed a three-game sweep of the Yankees in New York by sweeping a doubleheader 2-1 and 9-4.

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Then the Indians flew to Detroit, and after enjoying an off day, they swept a doubleheader, 3-2 and 10-0, from the Tigers on Sept. 1. Back-to-back doubleheader sweeps by a combined score of 20-7.

The Indians won two more games in Detroit, completing a four-game sweep, then flew to Chicago and swept four games from the White Sox. Then they flew home and swept a three-game series from Baltimore.

Then the Tigers came to town and the Indians swept them again, a three-gamer.

On the night of Sept. 14, at Progressive Field, the Indians were losing 2-1 to Kansas City with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning when Francisco Lindor bounced a double off the left field wall, driving in the tying run.

In the bottom of the 10th, Jay Bruce ripped a walk-off RBI double down the right field line, giving the Indians a 3-2 victory, their club-record and American League-record 22nd win in a row.

The next day, Sept. 15, the Indians lost.

It was their first loss since Aug. 23.

They went nearly a month without losing. When they finally did, after the final out, 30,874 fans at Progressive Field stood and cheered the players, and 30 Indians players came out of the dugout and cheered the fans.

The numbers from The Streak were ridiculous. Indians starting pitchers won 19 games and had a 1.77 ERA. The bullpen ERA was 1.17.

The Indians outscored their opponents by 105 runs (142-37). Tribe pitchers had seven shutouts, meaning the Indians shut out their opponents in one-third of the games during the streak. At the start of the streak the Indians led the division by 4ᄑ games. At the end of the streak they led by 1 ᄑ games.

It was the best of times, the most teasing of times.

After the loss to the Royals on Sept. 15, the Indians won five more in a row. That made them 27-1. Then they lost another game, then they won six of the last eight to end the regular season on a preposterous 33-4 (.892) run.

They finished the season with a record of 102-60, the second-most wins by the Indians in their 117-year history in the American League.

Then they beat the Yankees in the first two-games of the Division Series to extend their runs to 35-4 and 104-60.

Then— wham! — they hit the wall.

One win from advancing, they lost to the Yankees three times in 72 hours, by a combined score of 13-5.

Just like that, The Streak, the season, the dream was over.

There were respected analytics sites that suggested the 2017 Indians had the best pitching staff ever. They are certainly one of the best teams ever to not win the World Series, maybe the best team ever to not even GET to the World Series.

They rode 104-60 to within a short cab ride of the ALCS, then couldn’t find their wallet.

The 2017 Indians were better, across the board, than the 2016 Indians. But the 2016 Indians made it all the way to extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series while the 2017 Indians couldn’t even get their car out of the postseason garage.

The 2016 Indians were a big story.

The 2017 Indians were a big tease.

What will the 2018 Indians be?

You don’t have to be the best team to win it all. You only have to be the best team in October.

The 2018 Indians are a jigsaw puzzle, with important pieces missing, and with over three weeks of relatively meaningless games still to play before the postseason tournament begins.

The Indians will likely go into the postseason as a division champion with a worse record than both wild-card teams, but there’s nothing wrong with hiding in the weeds.

This Indians team may not be the best team statistically in the postseason, but you win with pitching, and if Trevor Bauer returns healthy, name a better starting rotation.

That’s a month away, however. For now, their division lead is in double digits, their magic number is in single digits.

So these are tricky times for Terry Francona, who wants to keep his team sharp, but also fresh.

The 2017 Indians never took their foot off the gas. The 2016 Indians chitty-chitty-bang-banged their way to the World Series.

The 2018 Indians have a chance to outperform them both.

Contact Jim Ingraham at (440) 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.


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