When September began, the Indians were 71-64, having been (for practical purposes) eliminated from the AL Central race by a brutal sweep at home against the Tigers in early August, and in 5th place in the Wild Card race, 6 games behind Oakland. The playoffs were certainly still a possibility, but they'd become a long shot, and many fans had begun to check out on the season.
Playoff probabilities on the morning of September 1st (via ESPN):
New York: 14.3%
...Fast forward to Sunday afternoon, the final day of the regular season, and witness the Indians finish off their seventh 4-game sweep of the season (more than any team since WW2) and clinching the top Wild Card spot, giving them a home date on Wednesday against the winner of Monday's play-in game between the Rangers and Rays. What happened? How did it happen? How does it stack up against the greatest finishing kicks in MLB history?
September 1: Indians win 4-0 in Detroit, in their final matchup of the regular season with the Tigers, with a 9th inning grand slam by Mike Aviles providing the scoring.
September 2-4: Indians take 2 of 3 at home against the Orioles. Yan Gomes has 3 hits in the series finale, including a double that drives in what proves to be the winning run.
September 6-8: Indians win 2 of 3 at home against the Mets. Nick Swisher hits the first two of what will eventually be a league-leading 7 home runs in the month. Corey Kluber returns after missing more than a month with a sprained finger.
September 9-11: Indians lose 2 of 3 against the Royals. Ubaldo Jimenez strikes out 10 while allowing just an unearned run in the lone Tribe victory.
September 12-15: Indians sweep a 4-game series in Chicago, hitting 9 home runs over the course of the series, including 3 off of Cy Young candidate Chris Sale on Sunday.
September 16-18: Indians lose 2 of 3 in Kansas City. Michael Bourn triples in the 7th and homers in the 9th during the win, with the bullpen tossing 4.1 shutout innings.
September 19-22: Indians sweep 4 games at home against the Astros. Tribe pitchers combine to strike out 44 batters over the course of the series, led by Scott Kazmir, who whiffs 12 on Saturday.
September 24-25: Indians win both games of a quick home series against the White Sox. This gives them a 14-game winning streak against Chicago, as well as a 17-2 record against them on the season. Justin Masterson returns (as a reliever) after missing 3 weeks.
September 26-29: Indians travel to Minnesota and sweep 4 games from the Twins. Chris Perez scares Tribe fans Thursday night, and is removed from the closer role, but the team keep winning. Jason Kipnis has 8 hits for the series.
Which players were most responsible for the Tribe's strong September?
5) Michael Brantley - .345/.364/.464, 133 wRC+, 2 HR, 8 R, 14 RBI
4) Scott Kazmir - 5 starts, 28 IP, 2.57 ERA, 0.98 FIP, 43 K, 4 BB, 30 H
3) Carlos Santana - .271/.393/.438, 136 wRC+, 3 HR, 16 R, 14 RBI
2) Nick Swisher - .263/.353/.515, 142 wRC+, 7 HR, 15 R, 17 RBI
1) Ubaldo Jimenez - 6 starts, 41.1 IP, 1.09 ERA, 1.09 FIP, 51 K, 7 BB, 35 H
Put it all together, and the Indians went 21-6 for the month, ending the season on a 10-game winning streak. Both those figures are historically significant. That 21-6 mark is good for a .778 winning percentage, not only the best in baseball this season, but one of the best ever.
Best Sept/Oct winning % in MLB history (regular season only):
|1||Chicago Cubs||1935||.885 (23-3)|
|2||Oakland Athletics||2001||.852 (23-4)|
|t3||St. Louis Cardinals||1942||.840 (21-4)|
|t3||St. Louis Cardinals||1943||.840 (21-4)|
|5||Kansas City Royals||1977||.813 (26-6)|
|6||Baltimore Orioles||1974||.806 (25-6)|
|t7||St. Louis Cardinals||1930||.800 (24-6)|
|t7||Chicago White Sox||1983||.800 (24-6)|
|9||Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers)||1920||.793 (23-6)|
|t10||Cleveland Indians||1952||.792 (19-5)|
|t10||New York Yankees||1952||.792 (19-5)|
|12||New York Giants||1916||.789 (30-8)|
|t13||New York Giants||1951||.786 (22-6)|
|t13||New York Mets||1988||.786 (22-6)|
|t13||New York Yankees||1995||.786 (22-6)|
|t16||New York Yankees||1931||.778 (21-6)|
|t16||St. Louis Cardinals||2002||.778 (21-6)|
|t16||Cleveland Indians||2013||.778 (21-6)|
|19||Detroit Tigers||2011||.769 (20-6)|
|t20||Philadelphia Phillies||2010||.767 (23-7)|
|t20||Houston Astros||2004||.767 (23-7)|
In the last 18 years, only one team has had a better final month of the regular season than this Indians this September.
The 10-game winning streak puts them in even more elite company.
Longest winning streaks to end regular season in MLB history:
|1||New York Yankees||1960||15|
|t2||Chicago White Sox||1915||11|
|t7||Hartford Dark Blues||1876||9|
|t7||Chicago White Stockings (Cubs)||1884||9|
|t7||Chicago White Sox||1964||9|
As you can see, this year's Indians are the only team in the last 40 years to win their final ten game of the season. That means most of us have never seen a team hit the finish line with this kind of force.