Back-to-back: Indians clinch second straight Central title
CLEVELAND (AP) Francisco Lindor planned to pour a bottle of water over his head. On Sunday, he’ll switch to champagne.
For the second year in a row, the Cleveland Indians are AL Central champions.
A few hours after they beat Kansas City 8-4 in the first game since the Royals stopped their AL record winning streak at 22, the Indians clinched the division title when second-place Minnesota lost to Toronto.
When their second crown became official, the Indians were long gone from Progressive Field, leaving the ballpark to spend time with family or toast a memorable week. In Lindor’s case, he was set to eat pizza and watch the boxing match between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez.
Lindor said if the Twins lost he would dump water on himself before focusing on the fight.
The bout figured to be close. The Indians knocked out the Twins, Royals, Tigers and White Sox.
But a division crown is only the first step for the Indians, whose mission is to win the World Series after coming so close last year. From the moment they lost to the Chicago Cubs in seven games, the Indians have been focused on getting back. Cleveland hasn’t won a Series title since 1948, baseball’s longest drought.
”Our goal is to go out there and win games and make it to the postseason and make it as far as we can in the postseason,” said Lindor, who set a club record by getting an extra-base hit in his 10th straight game. ”That’s our goal. It doesn’t matter what I do or what we did in the past.”
Manager Terry Francona’s team will finally get to spray champagne inside its own park following Sunday’s series finale. Last year, Cleveland won the division and ended two playoff series on the road, so this year’s celebration is long overdue.
This is the Indians’ ninth Central title and the first time they’ve won consecutive division titles since 1999, when they finished a run of five straight first-place finishes with dominant teams. None of those teams won the Series, either.
While Cleveland’s historic winning streak is no longer the talk of baseball, Lindor’s on a personal roll that’s become notable.
The All-Star’s double in the sixth off Jason Hammel (8-12) gave him an extra-base hit in 10 straight games – a club record and four shy of the major league mark of 14, shared by Chipper Jones (2006) and Paul Waner (1927).
”I didn’t even know that,” Lindor said. ”I saw it on the scoreboard.”
Carlos Carrasco (16-6) pitched into the seventh and Edwin Encarnacion hit his 35th homer as the Indians improved to 32-5 in their last 37 games.
Alex Gordon connected for the Royals, whose wild-card hopes took another blow and couldn’t stay close to the Indians.
”They’re all hot,” Hammel said. ”There’s a good reason they’re going to be wrapping it up.”
Following Friday’s 4-3 loss, the Indians were warmly saluted by their fans, who and gave them a rousing standing ovation in appreciation for the longest win streak baseball has seen since the 1916 New York Giants won 26 in a row.
No doubt the streak was fun, but it served as little more than a September diversion for these Indians.
”I was happy about that,” Francona said of his team’s ability to rebound. ”I didn’t think we wouldn’t, but it’s nice to see them go right back to trying to be as good of a team as we can be.”
The sensational Lindor is leading their charge.
With the Indians up by a run and with two on in the sixth, Lindor doubled high off the left-field wall to make 5-2. It was Lindor’s 40th double and broke a tie with Hal Trosky, who hit either a double, triple or homer in nine consecutive games for Cleveland in 1934.
”He’s using the whole field.” Francona said. ”And he’s strong enough and he’s got probably 1,500 at-bats under his belt. So, he knows the league and he understands situations more. That comes with experience. So he’s still every bit as dangerous. He just also is finding his hits, spraying the ball around.”
The Indians now have three pitchers – Kluber, Carrasco and Trevor Bauer – with 16 wins. They are the first Cleveland pitchers to get at least 16 in the same season since Early Wynn, Bob Lemon and Herb Score in 1956.
Royals: All-Star C Salvador Perez (pulled muscle in right side) will likely be out until Tuesday when Kansas City opens a series in Toronto. He hurt himself taking a swing on Thursday.
Indians: OF Brandon Guyer aggravated a wrist injury that sidelined him for six weeks earlier this season. He’ll undergo treatment and is expected to miss 5-to-7 days. … OF Lonnie Chisenhall will also miss a week after aggravating a calf injury. … OF Jason Kipnis got medical clearance to be activated Sunday and will play at least five innings in center field, his first time in the outfield since he was in the minors in 2009.
Kluber pitched a five-hit shutout in his last start and is 8-1 in his last nine starts. He’ll face LHP Danny Duffy, who will make his first start since Aug. 22 after being on the disabled list with a sore elbow.