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Indians use strongest finish in team history to win Wild Card

The Indians used an improbable September to clinch a playoff spot few people believed was possible.

Hannah Foslien

When September began, the Indians were 71-64, having been (for practical purposes) eliminated from the AL Central race by a brutal sweep at home against the Tigers in early August, and in 5th place in the Wild Card race, 6 games behind Oakland. The playoffs were certainly still a possibility, but they'd become a long shot, and many fans had begun to check out on the season.

Playoff probabilities on the morning of September 1st (via ESPN):

Texas: 97.1%
Tampa: 69.1%
New York: 14.3%
Baltimore: 13.0%
Cleveland: 12.6%

...Fast forward to Sunday afternoon, the final day of the regular season, and witness the Indians finish off their seventh 4-game sweep of the season (more than any team since WW2) and clinching the top Wild Card spot, giving them a home date on Wednesday against the winner of Monday's play-in game between the Rangers and Rays. What happened? How did it happen? How does it stack up against the greatest finishing kicks in MLB history?

September 1: Indians win 4-0 in Detroit, in their final matchup of the regular season with the Tigers, with a 9th inning grand slam by Mike Aviles providing the scoring.

September 2-4: Indians take 2 of 3 at home against the Orioles. Yan Gomes has 3 hits in the series finale, including a double that drives in what proves to be the winning run.

September 6-8: Indians win 2 of 3 at home against the Mets. Nick Swisher hits the first two of what will eventually be a league-leading 7 home runs in the month. Corey Kluber returns after missing more than a month with a sprained finger.

September 9-11: Indians lose 2 of 3 against the Royals. Ubaldo Jimenez strikes out 10 while allowing just an unearned run in the lone Tribe victory.

September 12-15: Indians sweep a 4-game series in Chicago, hitting 9 home runs over the course of the series, including 3 off of Cy Young candidate Chris Sale on Sunday.

September 16-18: Indians lose 2 of 3 in Kansas City. Michael Bourn triples in the 7th and homers in the 9th during the win, with the bullpen tossing 4.1 shutout innings.

September 19-22: Indians sweep 4 games at home against the Astros. Tribe pitchers combine to strike out 44 batters over the course of the series, led by Scott Kazmir, who whiffs 12 on Saturday.

September 24-25: Indians win both games of a quick home series against the White Sox. This gives them a 14-game winning streak against Chicago, as well as a 17-2 record against them on the season. Justin Masterson returns (as a reliever) after missing 3 weeks.

September 26-29: Indians travel to Minnesota and sweep 4 games from the Twins. Chris Perez scares Tribe fans Thursday night, and is removed from the closer role, but the team keep winning. Jason Kipnis has 8 hits for the series.

Which players were most responsible for the Tribe's strong September?

5) Michael Brantley - .345/.364/.464, 133 wRC+, 2 HR, 8 R, 14 RBI

4) Scott Kazmir - 5 starts, 28 IP, 2.57 ERA, 0.98 FIP, 43 K, 4 BB, 30 H

3) Carlos Santana - .271/.393/.438, 136 wRC+, 3 HR, 16 R, 14 RBI

2) Nick Swisher - .263/.353/.515, 142 wRC+, 7 HR, 15 R, 17 RBI

1) Ubaldo Jimenez - 6 starts, 41.1 IP, 1.09 ERA, 1.09 FIP, 51 K, 7 BB, 35 H

Put it all together, and the Indians went 21-6 for the month, ending the season on a 10-game winning streak. Both those figures are historically significant. That 21-6 mark is good for a .778 winning percentage, not only the best in baseball this season, but one of the best ever.

Best Sept/Oct winning % in MLB history (regular season only):
Rank Team Year W% (W-L)
1 Chicago Cubs 1935 .885 (23-3)
2 Oakland Athletics 2001 .852 (23-4)
t3 St. Louis Cardinals 1942 .840 (21-4)
t3 St. Louis Cardinals 1943 .840 (21-4)
5 Kansas City Royals 1977 .813 (26-6)
6 Baltimore Orioles 1974 .806 (25-6)
t7 St. Louis Cardinals 1930 .800 (24-6)
t7 Chicago White Sox 1983 .800 (24-6)
9 Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) 1920 .793 (23-6)
t10 Cleveland Indians 1952 .792 (19-5)
t10 New York Yankees 1952 .792 (19-5)
12 New York Giants 1916 .789 (30-8)
t13 New York Giants 1951 .786 (22-6)
t13 New York Mets 1988 .786 (22-6)
t13 New York Yankees 1995 .786 (22-6)
t16 New York Yankees 1931 .778 (21-6)
t16 St. Louis Cardinals 2002 .778 (21-6)
t16 Cleveland Indians 2013 .778 (21-6)
19 Detroit Tigers 2011 .769 (20-6)
t20 Philadelphia Phillies 2010 .767 (23-7)
t20 Houston Astros 2004 .767 (23-7)

In the last 18 years, only one team has had a better final month of the regular season than this Indians this September.

The 10-game winning streak puts them in even more elite company.

Longest winning streaks to end regular season in MLB history:
Rank Team Year Consecutive Wins
1 New York Yankees 1960 15
t2 Chicago White Sox 1915 11
t2 Baltimore Orioles 1970 11
t2 Baltimore Orioles 1971 11
t5 Pittsburgh Pirates 1937 10
t5 Cleveland Indians 2013 10
t7 Hartford Dark Blues 1876 9
t7 Chicago White Stockings (Cubs) 1884 9
t7 Chicago White Sox 1964 9
t7 Baltimore Orioles 1974 9

As you can see, this year's Indians are the only team in the last 40 years to win their final ten game of the season. That means most of us have never seen a team hit the finish line with this kind of force.