For the eighth time in Cleveland’s franchise history, the Indians are champions of the American League Central Division. And it didn’t come without needing to clear numerous hurdles along the way.
The Tribe’s 7-4 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Monday night clinched the AL Central crown for Cleveland, their first division title since 2007.
Players charged out of the visitor’s dugout at Comerica Park to begin the celebration after reliever Cody Allen recorded the final out of the evening with a strikeout.
RELATED: Box Score: Indians 7, Tigers 4
The playoff berth is also the Tribe’s first since losing in the American League Wild Card Game to the Tampa Bay Rays at Progressive Field in 2013. But unlike their appearance three years ago, Cleveland will not face the risk of a one-and-done in the postseason.
The Indians (91-65), by winning the division, are guaranteed at least three games in the best-of-seven American League Division series. But beyond just getting back to the postseason, Cleveland has their eye on bringing a World Series championship back to the city for the first time since 1948.
Corey Kluber’s early exit due to right groin tightness provided the only potential downside to Monday’s victory, and it’s a little fitting on some level that the Indians would need to overcome more adversity to clinch the division crown.
Kluber lasted just four innings before being lifted on Monday night, giving up a pair of runs on five hits, tossing 60 pitches in the win over the Tigers.
The severity of the ace’s injury is not currently known, but Cleveland has lost a pair of starting pitchers due to injury in the final month of the MLB regular season.
The Indians are still hopeful Danny Salazar will be able to return from a mild forearm strain and pitch out of the bullpen in October, but the right hand fracture suffered by Carlos Carrasco on Sept. 17 vs. Detroit likely ended any possibility of the talented righty contributing in the playoffs.
The injury bug was perhaps the Indians’ most difficult opponent during the regular season.
In addition to losing Salazar and Carrasco at unfortunate points this year, Cleveland has overcome the absence of the club’s most consistent offensive player, outfielder Michael Brantley, for all but 11 games in 2016, with unexpected contributions from infielder Jose Ramirez helping pick up the slack.
The Indians have even survived despite the worst offensive season of Yan Gomes’ career followed by a pair of injuries — the wrist fracture suffered on rehab likely ended any possibility of the catcher returning in October.
However, career years provided by Mike Napoli, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana and the consistent value of Francisco Lindor — in addition to Ramirez’s knack for contributing big hits — have helped Cleveland thrive offensively, serving as one of the American League’s top offenses for much of the season.
The team’s bullpen has emerged as one of baseball’s best since the acquisition of Andrew Miller, allowing Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Dan Otero to settle into comfortable relief roles.
And somehow, the Tribe has been able to piece the rotation together in the final month, with right-handers Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger being forced to step up after being put under the microscope.
It hasn’t always been conventional. It certainly hasn’t always been pretty. But Terry Francona’s bunch have punched their tickets to October anyways.
And as history tells us, once you get there, anything can happen.