Indians clinch third straight division title
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.