The Cleveland Indians (76-56) are cruising as they finished off a three-game sweep of the New York Yankees with wins in both the early game, 2-1, and late game, 9-4, of a traditional doubleheader. If not for a ninth-inning three-run home run allowed, the Tribe would have only given up four runs through the last six games of back-to-back sweeps1 as run prevention has carried them throughout a 19-9 month of August.
The Indians now sit seven games up on Minnesota (11 games up on Kansas City) for the AL Central division lead and 0.5 games up on Boston for the second seed in the AL. Houston still holds homefield advantage in the AL postseason, but only three games separate the Tribe from the Astros.2 Cleveland also now has the best run differential in the AL (+155) and second best in MLB (to the Los Angeles Dodgers) as the 496 runs allowed by Tribe pitching is the least in the AL by 51 runs.
Trevor Bauer and Ryan Merritt demonstrated how dominant the Indians starters have been as they gave up a mere two runs in 11 1/3 innings pitched on Wednesday. The Tribe’s rotation had a 3.87 ERA, 3.55 FIP, and 3.48 xFIP for the month of August as they led the American League in each of those alongside strikeout rate (27.3%), strikeout-to-walk rate (20.1%), and fWAR (17.4). Matching the starters, the Indians bullpen also led the AL for August in 3.01 ERA, 3.34 FIP, xFIP 3.53, but were second in fWAR (6.4, Yankees led) and strikeout-to-walk rate (19.4%, Astros led).
Don’t forget about the defense
Run prevention has not just been about the pitching though. Bradley Zimmer in center, Jay Bruce in right, Giovanny Urshela at third, Jose Ramirez at second, and both the catchers have continued to make plays throughout the month. The Indians shortstop, Francisco Lindor, might not be making some of the spectacular plays he has the past couple of seasons, but he has still been a steady force. You might have heard about Austin Jackson making a modest catch that wound up in the Red Sox bullpen in Fenway earlier in August too.
There has been another stellar defender who has not earned the acclaim his play has merited. A player who has been working hard to ensure he would be able to stay on the field of play rather than being designated for hitting only. Someone who has also taken it upon himself to learn multiple positions to ensure the Indians could maximize the utility of their roster. Yes, Carlos Santana has been spectacular at first base (and he even broke out his right field skills for the second game on Wednesday).
Santana’s defense at first base had gone from groan-inducing (2013) to adequate (2014, 2015) to decent (2016). With Mike Napoli gone for 2017 and Edwin Encarnacion signed more for his bat than his glove, Santana had an opportunity. To say he seized it would be an understatement as he is a legitimate AL Gold Glove candidate at first base.
First, here are the numbers that show where he stands. Carlos Santana’s DRS score of seven is only behind the Red Sox Mitch Moreland among qualified AL first basemen. Santana is also the only AL first baseman who has a positive score in each of the DRS categories: double plays, good fielding plays, and plays made. Santana’s UZR score is hurt because he does not venture outside his zone often whether it be by design (with Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez next to him and oftentimes a shift) or skill. Even so, he sits as fourth using UZR (2.3) as a measure behind just Joe Mauer, Mitch Moreland, and Logan Morrison.
Now, for the eye test.
Never bunt towards Carlos Santana
In the early game on Wednesday, Santana showed off his ability to play up on a bunt, barehand the ball, and rotate to flip the ball for the out. The smoothness he demonstrated on the play is what sticks out as it should have been a close play, and he might not have even gotten the out if he decide to scoop the ball with his glove.
Better elevate those line drives to the right side
Of course, the diving plays on line drives are what get Tribe fans excited as they have come quite often from Santana, especially in the second half of the season. On Monday, he robbed the Yankees Brett Gardner of a hit.
Ha ha, Hosmer
Over the weekend, Santana was the thorn in the side of the Royals that Eric Hosmer has been for the Tribe for years. Just to get the full schadenfreude of the switchover (Hosmer’s defense has been lagging this season), here is Santana elevating to take a hit away from Hosmer.
Why get one out, when you can get two?
Another ability of Santana is how he is always looking for the possibility of doubling up the runners. Those double play skills might come in handy at a crucial moment in the postseason.
Why not combining Santana’s diving skills with his quickness to double ’em up?
Joe Mauer is the best defensive first baseman. He should- and probably will- win the AL Gold Glove at first base. However, Santana has a real argument that he is next in line and should garner some votes. How many people thought Carlos Santana would be able to make such a claim even a year ago?