In­di­ans clinch third straight divi­sion ti­tle

Lethbridge Herald - - SPORTS | WEATHER -

Un­chal­lenged for months, the Cleve­land In­di­ans clinched their third straight AL Cen­tral ti­tle with a 15-0 blowout on Satur­day of the Detroit Tigers, who made four er­rors and man­aged only two hits.

Fran­cisco Lin­dor and Michael Brant­ley con­nected for back-to­back homers in the first in­ning off Michael Ful­mer (3-12), Jose Ramirez had three hits and the In­di­ans built an 11-0 lead af­ter two on the way to be­com­ing the first team to clinch a divi­sion cham­pi­onship.

It’s the ini­tial step to­ward an Oc­to­ber when Cleve­land will try to win its first World Se­ries since 1948 — the long­est drought in the ma­jors. Af­ter so many close calls, the In­di­ans be­lieve this is their year.

Cleve­land’s cur­rent three­year reign in the Cen­tral is the club’s long­est since win­ning five straight from 1995-99. The In­di­ans be­came the first team this year to clinch a divi­sion and the sec­ond as­sured of the post-season af­ter Bos­ton, which will be no worse than a wild card.

Mike Clevinger (12-8) al­lowed one hit in six in­nings, and Yon­der Alonso added a two-run homer as Cleve­land’s of­fence awak­ened from a late-season slump.

The lone blem­ish for the In­di­ans was an in­jury to des­ig­nated hit­ter Ed­win En­car­na­cion, who rolled his right an­kle while round­ing sec­ond base in the fourth. The team said the sprain was mild, but it’s one more is­sue man­ager Terry Fran­cona must mon­i­tor while get­ting his team ready for the post-season.

The In­di­ans re­moved any sus­pense about whether they would clinch by scor­ing six times in the first, the out­burst trig­gered by the shots from Lin­dor and Brant­ley off Ful­mer, who was pulled af­ter five pitches be­cause of knee in­flam­ma­tion.

Lin­dor’s 35th homer was also the All-Star’s eighth lead­ing off, break­ing the club record he shared with Grady Size­more (2008). Brant­ley fol­lowed with his 16th homer, prompt­ing Tigers catcher Brian McCann to wave to Detroit’s dugout to check Ful­mer. The 2016 AL Rookie of the Year fell to 0-7 in his last 10 starts.

The Tigers hurt them­selves by mak­ing two er­rors on rou­tine grounders in the first.

Cleve­land’s clinch­ing had been a fore­gone con­clu­sion.

The In­di­ans were ex­pected to win one of base­ball’s least com­pet­i­tive di­vi­sions and did so with ease. They moved into first on April 21, took a dou­bledigit lead for good on Aug. 8 and pulled away.

But while the stand­ings show a run­away, the In­di­ans, who have had their eyes on the up­com­ing post-season since blow­ing a 2-0 lead to the Yan­kees in the 2017 divi­sion se­ries, have had their share of ad­ver­sity.

There have been in­juries, per­sonal set­backs and a se­ri­ous health scare that for­tu­nately ended up be­ing only that.

An­chored by two-time Cy Young Award win­ner Corey Klu­ber, Cleve­land’s pitch­ing staff has sur­passed ex­pec­ta­tions. Klu­ber re­cov­ered from a knee prob­lem mid­way through the season and has dom­i­nated, win­ning 18 and rank­ing among the league lead­ers in sev­eral cat­e­gories. A third Cy Young is pos­si­ble, but he hasn’t had do it alone with Car­los Car­rasco and Trevor Bauer hav­ing strong sea­sons.

Bauer’s cur­rently side­lined with a bro­ken leg, and the In­di­ans are hop­ing he can help in the post-season. Also, Clevinger and rookie Shane Bieber emerged as de­pend­able starters.

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