David Schoenfield, ESPN Senior Writer 81d

Real or not? Indians are the team to beat in the American League

If you want to invest in stock futures for the American League playoffs, I suggest the Cleveland Indians. The Houston Astros might have the better record right now, and the Boston Red Sox are neck-and-neck in the overall standings, but this tweet sums up why the Indians will be the team to beat in the postseason:

The Indians have surged to a 29-16 record in the second half behind that dominant rotation. They swept the New York Yankees in Wednesday's doubleheader as Trevor Bauer and Ryan Merritt combined to allow just two runs over 11.1 innings in their starts, lowering the rotation ERA to 3.10 since the All-Star break, the second-best in the majors behind the Washington Nationals' 2.93 mark.

Sweeping the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the three-game series was especially noteworthy for this franchise: The Indians hadn't done that since 1989, and this marks just the second three-game sweep for them at Yankee Stadium since George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees back in 1973.

The Indians are now riding a seven-game winning streak despite Andrew Miller, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall all being on the disabled list. All those guys are expected back in September: Chisenhall should be back in the lineup on Friday, Tomlin possibly this weekend, Brantley in early September and Miller and Kipnis in mid-September. Salazar is out with elbow inflammation but is expected to throw a simulated game on Friday and could be activated next week without a rehab stint. The good news as well is that Tomlin (hamstring) and Miller (knee tendinitis) aren't suffering from arm injuries.

With Cleveland holding a fairly comfortable lead over the Minnesota Twins in the division, it will be interesting to see how manager Terry Francona handles the rotation down the stretch once he gets Tomlin and Salazar back. With Bauer and Mike Clevinger throwing well, Francona could go to a six-man rotation. He could back off a bit on Corey Kluber, who has thrown 110 or more pitches four times in his past eight starts. On the other hand, securing home-field advantage over the Red Sox or even over the Astros for the overall top seed is worth pursuing. The Red Sox are 40-25 at home but just 36-32 on the road.

Another reason to like the Indians right now: Jay Bruce has provided another power bat in the lineup and Carlos Santana has apparently rediscovered his stroke. Santana is hitting .288/.399/.575 in the second half, helping offset the decline of Jose Ramirez, who has been unable to match his MVP-caliber numbers from the first half. During the seven-game win streak, they've posted a .391 OPB, slugged .575 and belted 16 home runs.

Getting Brantley and Chisenhall back will give Francona all kinds of options in the outfield, and the club can hope Kipnis can salvage his injury-prone seasons when it matters most. The Indians are good, they're deep and now they're playing up to their potential. I like the direction they're going.

Catch of the day. Keon Broxton's home run robbery wasn't the most spectacular of catches, but it was a 13 out of 10 on the clutch scale. This is how you end a game in the most dramatic of fashion:

Buck's boys are boiling. The Baltimore Orioles have also won seven in a row, completing a sweep of the Seattle Mariners even though Ubaldo Jimenez pitched an Ubaldo and put the O's in a 6-2 hole. Baltimore hit four home runs, and Jonathan Schoop delivered the winning single with two outs in the eighth:

Schoop will receive some down-ballot MVP votes, as he's hitting .306/.353/.544 with 30 home runs and 99 RBIs. He has missed just two games and is on pace for 37 home runs and 121 RBIs -- pretty remarkable power numbers for a second baseman. A second baseman has knocked in at least 120 runs just 12 times, including three each by Rogers Hornsby and Jeff Kent. Only Hornsby and Bret Boone have hit 35 home runs while driving in 120. Schoop's season is right up there as one of the biggest surprises of 2017.

It has been vintage Orioles baseball of late: home runs and bullpen. They lead the majors with 55 home runs in August and they also lead with a .303 average. Trade acquisition Tim Beckham has been a steal, leading the majors with a .385 average and 47 hits this month. As always, give Buck Showalter credit for handling the bullpen. Even though the rotation has been terrible and rarely pitches deep into a game, he manages not to burn out his relievers.

Note this as well: With the Yankees losing that doubleheader, the race for both wild-card spots is suddenly on. The Yankees are just a game up on the Twins, the Orioles are just 2.5 behind the Yankees (with seven games remaining against them) and the Angels are a half game ahead of the Orioles.

Jose Berrios dominates. There are times when Berrios' stuff is NSFW. This was one of those games, maybe the best of his young career, as he fanned 11 in seven scoreless innings in a 11-1 win over the Chicago White Sox. We need to do a longer post soon on the Twins, who have already won 10 more games than in all of 2016, but Berrios has been huge as he improved to 12-6 with a 3.80 ERA.

The Twins are 19-10 in August with one game remaining against the White Sox, having outscored their opponents 171-116. Keep this in mind: They have just three games remaining against the Indians, meaning they have the easiest remaining schedule of any of the wild-card contenders. It's a remarkable turnaround from the end of July, when they were 4.5 behind the Kansas City Royals for the second wild card and traded away closer Brandon Kintzler. (The Royals, meanwhile, lost again and fell four games behind the Twins.)

Keep an eye on news on Byron Buxton, who left Wednesday's game after injuring himself on a swing. He'll be re-evaluated on Thursday.

The worst player in baseball hits two home runs. So, on the same day this FiveThirtyEight piece calling Albert Pujols the worst player in baseball was published, he responds with two home runs -- the 611th and 612th of his career, tying Jim Thome for seventh on the all-time list.

The Angels can hope this is a sign of life for a player hitting .208/.246/.346 in the second half entering Wednesday's game, but the truth is Pujols has been terrible all season. But what about all those RBIs? Pujols now has 83, but that’s all about his spot in the batting order -- for some reason, manager Mike Scioscia has continued to hit him third. He has been a little better with runners in scoring position, hitting .247 and slugging .479 (compared to .225 and .360 with the bases empty), but entering the game he had come up with 364 runners on base compared to an average of 308 with his total of plate appearances.

Obviously, he can thank Mike Trout to a large degree. Trout had the second four-run game of his career in the 10-8 win over the A’s, and just missed a cycle -- hitting two singles, a triple and a home run to snap an 0-for-17 skid.

Random crazy stuff. 1. There's Ian Happ thinking he hit a triple to complete the cycle in the Chicago Cubs' 17-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates:

Oh, Happ's 20th home run made the Cubs the first team in MLB history to have players younger than 26 reach 20 home runs.

2. Here's Javier Baez stealing home in that same game:

By the way, the Cubs' run differential in the first half was zero. In 44 games in the second half, it's plus-90.

3. Ender Inciarte had a five-hit game and eight hits in a doubleheader as the Braves sweep the Phillies. He finished one short of the MLB record for hits in a doubleheader (done many times).

4. The Pirates put Juan Nicasio on irrevocable waivers. This one requires a deeper explanation.

Nicasio has a 2.85 ERA with solid peripherals (2.99 FIP). He has been the team's second-best reliever. So it seems a little odd that the Pirates are just cutting him loose after apparently not finding a trade for him. They're obviously hoping somebody claims him -- which seems likely -- in order to save about $600,000 in remaining salary the rest of the season. At least that's the theory. The Pirates aren't saying anything right now.

"The waiver process -- if enacted -- is supposed to be a confidential process until it reaches conclusion," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "If there is something to report at that time, it will be reported."

Now, Harrington was certainly ordered to make the move, assuming there's not some off-the-field issue going on. If the theory about pinching pennies is correct, it's a pathetic move by the Pirates. Sure, $600,000 is a lot of money, but that's chump change for a big league organization. If owner Bob Nutting is worried about $600,000, he shouldn't own a major league franchise. The optics look terrible -- both to the fans and to the players, who understand they play for a franchise more concerned about saving $600,000 than putting its most competitive product on the field.

It has been a bad season for the Pirates, between Jung Ho Kang's legal problems, Starling Marte's PED suspension, Gregory Polanco's rough year, the stalled development of Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows; this is just the topper on a lost season. You wonder how long Huntington, a well-regarded GM (although he hasn't had his best season either), and manager Clint Hurdle will want to remain a part of this organization. Will they look to jump ship like Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman did in Tampa?

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