Indians on pace for impressive improvement

With six weeks left, the Indians could set a team mark for improvement from one season to the next.

With one more win the Cleveland Indians will match their win total from 2012.

Barring an 0-37 finish, it should happen soon.

Which means something, though how much it means is debatable given the Indians won all of 68 games in a 2012 season that turned miserable after July.

That being said, matching the win total by mid-August is significant improvement, never mind the level of misery a year ago.

This season’s misery was more compressed, as the Indians had a very disappointing week when they lost four-of-four to the Tigers, a series that knocked the Indians from a wild card spot to the fringes of the chase. Since that deflating series, they’ve gone 5-5, meaning they have a tough climb if they wish to reach the playoffs.

So the season may not end the way fans -- and the team -- hoped.

But heading into Tuesday night’s game in Anaheim, the Indians are on pace for 87 wins.

That’s not wild-card caliber, and at first blush it might not sound like a great season. But it is a 19-game improvement from last season to this.

The win total could end up being more, and it could be less. The schedule includes 22 games vs. the Angels, Twins, Mets, White Sox, and Astros -- teams the Indians have gone 22-10 against this season. The final 10 games are against Minnesota, Chicago and Houston -- teams that are a combined 82 games under .500.

The longer the Indians hang in -- and the toughest stretch starts next week against Atlanta, Detroit and Baltimore -- the more hope lives for a furious finish.

Longshot? Absolutely. But crazy things happen in sports.

But if the Indians don’t make the wild card and do win those 87 games, they’ll have done something they’ve rarely done. Because a 19-game improvement would be among the best in team history -- and the Indians have been playing baseball since 1901 when they were the Cleveland Blues.

The biggest one-season jump in team wins surely would have come in 1994. But as everyone who saw Sandy Alomar break down when discussing it, the strike wiped out that season.

So the largest season-to-season improvement in a full season was 24 wins, when the Indians went from 60 in 1985 to 84 in 1986. That ‘86 team featured Joe Carter, Mel Hall, Julio Franco and Neal Heaton (among others).

The Tris Speaker team of 1916 improved by 20 games. Teams in 1929, ‘92 and ‘54 improved by 19 -- with the ‘54 team losing in the World Series.

The Indians improved by 18 from 1925 to ’26 and 2006 to ’07, and 17 from 1947-48. The team made the ALCS in ‘07, and won the World Series in ‘48.

With a decent finish -- which is eminently realistic -- the Indians have a chance to actually approach the mark for the best season-to-season improvement in team history (strike-shortened seasons not included).

Which matters.

So does point of view.

The “Cleveland way” to view this would be to focus on the disappointment of the Tigers series.

The flip side says the Tigers merely showed their superiority, fueled by a Hall of Famer/reigning MPV/Triple Crown winner and a salary structure the Indians cannot match.

All they can do is what they can do, and to say they’ve not had an improved season is to ignore the reality.

Too, the Indians have ways to improve in the offseason. They will lose the salaries (presumably) of Ubaldo Jimenez and Brett Myers, which adds up to $12.7 million. They could trade Asdrubal Cabrera’s $10 million  and perhaps even consider trading a guy like Chris Perez. And they can look to 2014 knowing the starting pitching has gone from a huge question mark to a potential foundation. They also have a manager who has proven he can win and handle a lineup and pitching staff.

If the Indians don’t make the playoffs it would be a disappointment.

But even with that, there is no getting around the fact they’ve taken a step forward.

In point of fact, they could take one of the largest steps forward they’ve ever taken.

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