I will fully admit that I was skeptical about the Cleveland Indians coming into this season. The first season win total I saw was 84. Even at my most optimistic the best I could convince myself to do was pass on them at that number. I couldn't convince myself that the "over" was a good idea at all. It's still early, but they are certainly working to make me look silly. As I write they already have 41 wins and just 30 losses. That puts them on pace for 94 wins - and a playoff spot as a division winner to boot.
So, how are they doing it? And, more importantly for bettors, are they going to be able to keep doing it? Here are five factors to consider when pondering those questions:
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Royals chasing: The Indians have a three-game lead in their division. That's a solid position to be in but not a hugely secure one. Unfortunately for them, the team right behind them is none other than the defending World Series champs. The Royals are not quite the team that they were last year, but they have really found their stride lately and they are only going to get better as things advance and they get into a situation they know much better than the Indians and are surely more comfortable with as pressure and intensity increases. With the Red Sox scoring runs in bulk, and the Jays and Astros playing much better lately, the wild card isn't going to be an easy race, either. I would feel a lot better about this team going forward if there was a different team on their tail.
Rotation: The team is playing well defensively. The 272 runs they have allowed (3.8 per game) are the fewest in the American League. Unfortunately, the Royals are second best, so this isn't a particular advantage for them in the race. The rotation was looked at as a strength coming into the season. With the exception of Cody Anderson, who was really lousy before mercifully ending up on the DL in early June, they have lived up to expectations. Danny Salazar has been particularly good, but all of the top four starters have been strong. Trevor Bauer has been exceptional in his last four starts. And if this is an indication of what he could be capable of, and that he is finally ready to live up to his potential, then he'll be really dangerous going forward. I'm still not completely sold on this unit, but they are good enough to keep this team contending going forward.
Road performance: I attach a lot of significance to how teams perform on the road. Winning on the road is obviously harder than at home, but good teams are ones that can overcome that and win more than their share away from their comfort zone. The Indians are just 18-18 away from home, which doesn't give me a whole lot of confidence. Four of the other five division leaders are
Way above .500 on the road. The exception is the Orioles, and I don't see them staying up top for long. The good news for the Indians, though, is that as underwhelming as they have been on the road, they look absolutely dominant compared to the Royals. Kansas City's 13-25 mark is just hideous and a far cry from their respectable 44-37 total last year.
At the plate: The team is middle-of-the-pack in the American League in terms of performance offensively. Six teams have scored more runs than they have. The good news, though, is that they have 67 more runs than they have allowed - nearly one per game and a margin only bested by Boston in the AL right now. In short, then, it's not an offense that is going to excite or overwhelm, but it is solid and, when paired with this defense, enough to contend with. The best news here is that there isn't a single guy who is a major contributor who feels like he is playing beyond himself. On the other hand, there are a few guys who feel like they could and should be giving more. In other words, the risk of a collapse from this offense seems low, but the chance for a solid improvement seems possible. There is upside, and I like betting on upside.
Betting performance: Just 10 major league teams have produced a profit through flat betting the moneyline all season, and seven of them have produced a profit of at least five units. Cleveland is one of those teams That's a good thing. They haven't been money factories like Texas or San Francisco, but they have been a net positive. They have won six in a row, though, so they look like a much more attractive bet now than they were a week ago. They have been small losers on the runline for the year, but have produced slight profits on the total - they have gone "over" 35 times compared to 30 "unders".
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