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The last two months should give Cleveland Indians fans hope for 2016

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Separate August and September from the rest of the year, and you'll see an Indians team that looks like the AL Central's best.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a very disappointing season for the Indians. Most of us expected them to contend for the AL Central crown, but instead the team was out of that race by Memorial Day. The middling nature of this year's American League Wild Card race allowed the Tribe to be back within three games of a postseason spot as recently as Saturday, but the last 48 hours have nailed that coffin shut too. Still, there's good reason to think the team will be better next season, maybe good enough to win its first division title since 2007.

The Indians dramatically altered their roster during late June and July. First, some rookies were called up, and later some veterans were traded away. Francisco Lindor a few weeks to find his legs at the plate, but since the All-Star break he's been arguably the second-best player in the AL, behind only probably MVP Josh Donaldson. Lindor ought to win AL Rookie of the Year, and looks like he'll be a star for years to come. The trades that sent Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and Brandon Moss away opened up a spot for Lonnie Chisenhall to be called back up and given a look in right field, where he's been great. Abraham Almonte (acquired in a deadline deal) is playing the best ball of his career in center. Michael Brantley has been tremendous, the pitching has done well...

Going back to August 1, the Indians are 26-22, which is an 88-win pace. That record puts them only half a game behind Kansas City for the best record in the division during that time. If you look at run differential instead of record, the Tribe looks even better. During August and September they've outscored their opponents 223 to 177, giving them the second-best run differential in the American League during that time, behind only Toronto. They're 7th among the 15 AL teams in runs scored per game, and 2nd in runs allowed.

The Indians are going to have money to spend this offseason, and while it remains to be seen what positions they'll try to upgrade it, it's reasonable to think the Opening Day roster will have more talent than the current version. Meanwhile, looking around the rest of the division...

The Royals are sort of stumbling to the finish line, with the biggest culprit being the collapse of their vaunted bullpen. It's possible that group will rebound, but it's also possible they're doing what most good bullpens eventually do, and regressing/breaking down. The White Sox continue to be a middling team.The Tigers have been the AL's worst team during the last couple months, and while I expect they'll do quite a bit better than that next year, they've got a lot of holes to plug this offseason if they're going to return to favorite status. The Twins continue to contend for a Wild Card spot, but their run differential for the last two months is exactly the same as their run differential for the full season: perfectly even. Kudos to them for sequencing things well enough to contend in the mediocre middle of the league, but they don't strike me as a good team. They're young, and could certainly be better next season, but are unlikely to be a powerhouse.

Obviously you can brush all this off if you just don't want to believe the Indians might be close to very good. The Indians have a losing record, and you don't have to believe anything else matters if you don't want to. If you're looking for signs that we're approaching a good season (or seasons) for the Tribe though, it's pretty easy to find some.