“Don’t you worry they’re over-exerting themselves?”
I was asked this over the weekend, back when the Cleveland Indians‘ winning streak was a mere 16 games. The fear, it seemed, was the possibility the team rolling now would leave everyone exhausted come postseason when the games really matter.
I understood where the question was coming from. However, I have no concern about the timing of this Indians surge.
As Cleveland takes the field tonight attempting to win an astonishing 20 straight games, I’m here to tell you this streak actually couldn’t be happening at a better time.
First, let’s address the main argument. As incredible as this winning streak has been, there’s always the potential for teams going so far above and beyond in the regular season everyone is gassed by the team they reach the playoffs. A team which clinches the top seed in the league and promptly fails to make it out of the first round of the postseason is hardly a freak occurrence. Just ask the 2016 Texas Rangers (you had your chance, Jonathan Lucroy).
With this said, it’s understandable for some Indians fans to worry this historic tear might leave the team pooped come playoff time.
As much as I get this, allow me to explain why this is actually the best month to have yourself a winning streak.
With September comes the annual roster expansion. Now that minor league play has come to an end, teams in the majors can call up extra players and give some of their top prospects a good look.
What this means for the Indians, though, is the team is on its current warpath while hardly utilizing anything looking like an everyday postseason roster.
Young players like Yandy Diaz, Giovanny Urshela, Erik Gonzalez and rookie Greg Allen are all playing consistently. At the same time, it’s tough to believe all of them will see much postseason action, or even make the playoff roster.
The ability to play prospects so frequently, of course, prevents Cleveland from feeling as though it needs to rush key players like Jason Kipnis, Andrew Miller and Michael Brantley back from their respective injuries . It also gave the team the freedom to rest Jose Ramirez for a couple games due to a sore wrist, or Jay Bruce for an entire week due to his sleeping on his neck a little funny.
One other reason I’m not terribly concerned about the Tribe peaking too early here is, frankly, how relaxed the players look despite demolishing their opponent on a nightly basis.
The Indians are claiming they aren’t putting too much stock in the winning streak, which is exactly what you’d expect them to say. Sure, it’s been a blast, but something something “take it all one game at a time.” They’ve essentially been handing out the kind of quotes which can be written off as token locker room speak.
If you’ve been watching the team, though, you’re forced to believe them.
Despite ripping through any and all competition for the past two weeks, the Indians sure don’t look like they’re pressing. The team has appeared stress-free through all of this, while Terry Francona and crew have hardly been managing as though this streak is the biggest goal of the season. The expanded bullpen has helped prevent starters from being too taxed, while any players who appear even remotely nicked up are quickly removed from the contest. Heck, by the final innings of last night’s blowout win against the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland was essentially fielding a team of utility players.
Outside of the aforementioned roster expansions, the main reason why the Indians can afford to be this flexible with the rosters during this streak is the fact the pennant race is now a formality.
At the beginning of August, Cleveland was fending off the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins, both of whom were just a couple games out of first place. Today, the latter is 13.5 games back, the former 16.5. This has lead to the laid back approach we’ve seen from both the Indians players and coaching staff, preventing them from having to put forth extra effort on any sort of playoff push.
The fact Cleveland is really only playing for seeding, and is doing so while using a wide variety of lineups, makes this winning streak so much more impressive. It also makes it incredibly well-timed. Nobody is being pushed too hard, injured players aren’t being fast-tracked and the team in general is as hassle-free as ever.
Simply put, the Indians are casually chasing history. And doing so at the best possible time.