CLEVELAND — Some good things are happening with the Cleveland Indians.
Things that could have folks talking about the Indians and the playoffs.
It starts with a sweep of the Texas Rangers in a three-game series that ended Sunday, a win that continued a streak of excellent starts by the rotation and ended with the Indians eight games above .500 and one game out of the final wild card spot in the playoffs. If anything has been proven the past two years, where a team stands in late July has little to do with how it finishes, but after twice shutting out the Rangers the Indians are in better position than they were the final two seasons.
In consecutive games, the Indians starters went eight innings against a Texas team that ranks fifth in the American League in home runs and sixth in batting average. Justin Masterson on Saturday and Ubaldo Jimenez on Sunday pitched eight shutout innings, leaving only so the bullpen could finish.
After giving up eight runs in eight innings on Friday, the Indians threw 21 scoreless innings against a Rangers lineup that includes Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus.
“I’ll tell you what, they got some great hitters over there so for our pitchers to be doing that it means we’re doing something right now,” said first baseman Nick Swisher.
“Maybe sometimes you catch teams at a good time,” manager Terry Francona said.
The Rangers have lost 13 of 16 and have been shut out in three of the last four games.
But they haven’t been shut out in back-to-back games since 2009, and haven’t been swept in a three-game series in Cleveland since 1980. The Indians now have 14 shutouts this season, best in baseball. Eleven have come at home. And the back-to-back shutouts are the team’s first since May of 2008. They also prompted Texas manager Ron Washington to hold a 40-minute closed-door meeting after the game.
The eight scoreless by Jimenez marked the 16th time in 21 starts this season he has given up three runs or fewer; in only four of those starts has he lasted more than six innings. But in the starts he lasts six innings, Jimenez is 5-0 with an ERA of 0.75.
Since June 1, the guy who led the league in losses a year ago is 5-2 with a 2.98 ERA.
But it’s not just him. The Indians starting rotation has gotten to the point there is no obvious choice to remove if a significant move is made at the trade deadline. And it’s almost to the point that the front office might not have to think of a starting pitcher as a dire need – imagine the last time that was true.
In the last 17 games, the starters have given up 22 runs in 107 2/3 innings – an ERA of 1.85. In seven of those games the starters did not give up an earned run while pitching 48 2/3 innings.
An area of the team considered a question mark when the season started is producing like a strength, which means the Indians can think about more than just winning the division. Detroit will be tough to catch in the division — Cleveland is 9-4 the last 13 games and lost one-half game on the Tigers — but the wild card suddenly isn’t out of reach.
With AL East teams set to play each other a lot as the season winds down, the Indians are one game back of the Orioles for the second spot, 5 1/2 behind Tampa Bay for the first.
Yes it’s early, and yes, there are 58 games remaining.
But at this point a year ago the Indians were starting the 11-game slide that torpedoed a season.
And two years ago they were hovering at .500 before losing ground as the season went on.
This season’s team rebounded from a 2-4 road trip to sweep a team that had gone 14-5 against Cleveland the previous two seasons.
The woeful White Sox come to town Monday for a four-game series, followed by a three-game series against more-woeful Miami. The second-half schedule has been much discussed; suffice it to say it’s not overly challenging.
The Indians freely admit they are not the most overpowering team in baseball.
They know they cannot win if they are sloppy or careless.
They also know more than one-third of the season remains.
But through 104 games on July 28, they’ve done their part.