A 20-game winning streak turned the 2002 Oakland Athletics into Oscar bait and transformed Billy Beane into Brad Pitt for 133 silver-screen minutes. Their playoff stay was closer in duration to the script than the streak, lasting exactly five games as the Minnesota Twins bounced the Moneyball A’s from the ALDS for the third time in what would be four straight seasons.
To say the Cleveland Indians merely equaled that streak Tuesday night would be oversimplifying things a bit, so before they attempt to match the 1935 Chicago Cubs for the longest winning streak in baseball history Wednesday afternoon, let’s compare this Indians’ current run to that of those well-documented A’s.
That Oakland team posted a run differential of plus-76 on their streak from Aug. 13-Sept. 4, 2002 and a 3.8 average per game, while the Cubs’ 21-game run from Sept. 4-27, 1935 featured marks of 87 and 4.1. The Indians are at 102 and 5.1.
That discrepancy, unsurprisingly, comes down to just how dominant the Indians’ pitching, hitting and fielding have been on the streak. Oakland only matched Cleveland in one of those categories.
We’ll start by dispelling the idea that the Indians might have played a softer schedule. Yes, they’ve won six against Detroit and four over the AL-worst Chicago White Sox, but the collective winning percentage of the Indians’ opponents entering those 20 games is .468. The A’s: .450. The Cubs faced opponents with a .482 winning percentage, and there’s probably some validity in considering all three streaks stretched at least into September with certain teams well into planning for the future.
As for specific aspects of the game, let’s start with the bullpen, because one of the more important parts of the Indian’s streak was the 8 1/3 scoreless innings their relievers threw on Sept. 5. Danny Salazar gave up four first-inning runs to the White Sox, and seven relievers steadied things in a 9-4 win to push the streak to 13 games. It’s part of a 25 1/3 scoreless-inning run over the past nine games, though the ’pen hasn’t been needed in two of those. Over the full 20, the bullpen has a 1.34 ERA, .199 opponent batting average and .478 OPS against.
The A’s bullpen was at 3.69/.240/.687 and scrambled to recover from three blown saves.
People look back on the Moneyball A’s, and the features that tend to come to mind are a focus on getting on base and Oakland’s Big Three – then considered by some as the closest imitation to Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz. So, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito will certainly balance that out with starting pitching, right? Not quite. Oakland’s entire pitching staff: 2.65/.221/.621. Cleveland’s: 1.60/.206/.541. Evaluating starters alone, and the Indians (1.71/.209/.567) still have an edge over the A’s (2.36/.216/.602).
At the plate, the Indians have gone 29-5 since moving Francisco Lindor to the leadoff spot on Aug. 10. He’s been in the lineup 19 times on the streak, batting .364 with nine home runs, 19 RBIs and a 1.229 OPS to pace an offense that’s averaged 6.7 runs, hit .308 with a .942 OPS and 39 home runs.
Those are huge numbers, but this gives insight into how the A’s strung 20 together. They might not have always pitched like a team capable of winning 20 straight, but they scored 7.1 runs per game while batting .299 with a .885 OPS and 30 home runs to give this Cleveland team a run for its money.
And finally, boring old fielding. People think back on those A’s as a fundamentally strong team, yet they ranked 12th in fielding percentage for the season and made 15 errors on their streak for a fielding percentage of .982. The Indians rank second this year and have only improved on their run with six errors and a .992 mark, which matches Miami for the best in baseball dating to Aug. 24.
It all amounts to three one-run games and a 13 1/2-game lead over the Minnesota franchise that made sure the Moneyball A’s glory was short-lived. Cleveland’s run seems more suited to a Hollywood ending.