In July, a reporter asked Angels manager Mike Scioscia to comment on the success of the Dodgers, who were in the midst of winning 14 of 15 games. Scioscia obliged the question, but quickly noted that he and his players were focused on their own fate.
Hopefully their focus hasn’t wavered.
The Cleveland Indians roll into Anaheim this week having recently won 22 consecutive games, an American League record. There’s a strong case for calling it the longest, most dominant regular-season streak ever in Major League Baseball.
Cleveland trailed at the end of only eight innings during the 199 innings it played. Once, the Indians won in their final at-bat. Mostly they won by grappling teams into submission early, leaving no room for a reversal. They outscored opponents, 142-37.
The streak began on Aug. 24 and ended Friday. For the Indians’ rookies who were summoned when rosters expanded in September, a 4-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals marked the first time they ever tasted defeat in the major leagues. Cleveland beat Kansas City on Saturday and Sunday, beginning a new streak. After Sunday’s win, the team wasted several bottles of champagne in celebration of an AL Central title.
Through one prism, the Indians’ rise is a story of successful drafting and developing, and signing homegrown players to team-friendly contracts. Their $139 million payroll ranks 19th in baseball according to Spotrac.
Infielder Jose Ramirez, an MVP candidate at age 24, is signed through 2021 at a total cost of $26 million. Pitcher Corey Kluber will make $7.5 million this year – more if he captures his second career Cy Young Award. Other key contributors include young (read: inexpensive) talents such as Francisco Lindor (23), Mike Clevinger (26) and Bradley Zimmer (24).
The success of Clevinger, who starts Tuesday opposite Tyler Skaggs, is a case of what might have been for the Angels.
Clevinger had a 5.37 ERA at Class-A Inland Empire when the Angels traded him to Cleveland for Vinnie Pestano in August 2014. He was 23 years old at the time, three years removed from hearing his name called in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.
Pestano, a left-handed relief specialist, was perfectly serviceable for an Angels team en route to its only division title this decade. He was charged with one run in 12 relief appearances after the trade. But within a year, Pestano was outrighted off the Angels’ 40-man roster. He hasn’t appeared in a major league game since.