BALTIMORE -- The Cleveland Indians are starting to party like it's 2016.
On Monday night at Camden Yards, the defending American League champs pummeled the Baltimore Orioles 12-0 for their sixth straight win. When the streak started, the Indians were a .500 club that was two games back in what has looked like a decidedly mediocre AL Central division. Less than a week later, they're two-and-a-half games up and looking a whole lot like a team that's ready to run away and hide.
Interestingly, Cleveland's current streak comes at almost exactly the same time that the squad started rolling last season, when they kicked off a franchise-record 14-game winning streak in mid-June, finished the month with a 22-6 record, then never looked back. The difference is, while last year's wake-up call was fueled by a starting rotation that caught fire, this year's coming-out party has been built on blistering bats.
Cleveland came into the series opener in Baltimore with a five-game winning streak during which the team averaged eight runs per contest. On Monday they pounded out 17 hits, including 10 extra-base knocks, en route to scoring 12 runs. While the O's staff has been ailing, the fact that the outburst came against Dylan Bundy made it all the more impressive.
The de facto ace of the Orioles, Bundy has been the lone bright spot in an Orioles rotation that ranks dead last in the American League in pretty much every major category. The former first-round pick, who came in with a 3.29 ERA that ranked ninth among AL starters, cruised early, allowing just one hit through three scoreless frames. But the Indians broke through in the middle innings, batting around in both the fourth and fifth.
In the fourth inning alone, they tallied four doubles off Bundy, who had never allowed more than three doubles in an entire game. In the fifth, they collected four more extra-base hits, including a mammoth leadoff homer by Jason Kipnis that sailed beyond the flag court in right and landed on Eutaw Street. It was just the 90th homer to land on Eutaw since Camden Yards opened 25 years ago.
Jose Ramirez followed with a loud lineout to right, then Edwin Encarnacion walked, putting an early end to Bundy's night after just 4 1/3 innings. It was the first time all season that Bundy failed to last five innings, yet one more sign that Cleveland's bats are burning right now.
Just how hot is Terry Francona's lineup? So hot that not even a pregame downpour -- and the resulting 29-minute rain delay -- could cool off the Indians' attack.
"It's contagious," said outfielder Austin Jackson, who drove in three runs with a pair of doubles. "From top to bottom, everybody's having good at-bats. We've been doing a good job driving the ball."
And right now, nobody’s doing a better job than Ramirez.
Earlier in the day, Cleveland's third baseman was named the AL Player of the Week after a ridiculous seven-game stretch in which he hit .516 with 8 doubles, 3 homers and 7 RBIs. On Monday night, the 24-year old Dominican native picked up right where he left off, going 3-for-6 with a triple and two doubles.
Ramirez has now hit at least one double in seven straight games, a franchise record, and has raised his average nearly 40 points in less than a week. According to Elias, he's the first player in the modern era (post-1900) with at least 14 extra-base hits in a seven-game stretch.
"That's incredible," said Francona, almost at a loss for words to describe the zone his three-hole hitter is in right now. "He obviously makes solid contact a lot, but he uses the whole field and doesn't strike out much. That’s hard to defend. He's just putting the barrel on the ball so often."
As a result, the Indians are scoring runs by the bushel. Or as was the case on Monday, by the dozen -- which was 11 more than Corey Kluber needed.
"He's a bulldog on the mound," said Jackson of Kluber, the 2014 Cy Young winner who spent three weeks on the shelf earlier this season with a back strain.
Since coming back in late May, the 31-year old righty has been up to his old tricks, pitching to a 1.61 ERA and posting a 39-to-4 whiff-walk ratio. On Monday against Baltimore, he tossed a complete game, three-hit shutout, fanning 11 without walking a batter. In the process, he became just the fifth hurler in Tribe history to spin a road shutout with 10-plus punchouts and zero walks. Perhaps more importantly, he has been keeping the guys behind him in the game.
"When he's on the mound, guys get up for it," said Jackson of Kluber. "When we put a few runs on the board, that seems to be enough for a pitcher like him."
On Monday, as they've been doing a lot lately, the Indians put up more than a few runs.
"You've seen a different team, a different energy with us the last week," Kipnis said. "It shows us what we can do when we bring that energy. It's been a fun week for us."