As Indians Close on Record, Is Cleveland's Winning Streak MLB's Most Impressive Ever?

Jay Jaffe
Sports Illustrated

NOTE: This post has been updated

On Thursday night at Progressive Field, the Indians beat the Royals 3-2 in 10 innings to to win their 22nd game in a row, surpassing the 1935 Chicago Cubs for the longest winning streak in the majors since 1900. The win was the most dramatic of the streak, for were one strike away from defeat in the bottom of the ninth when Francisco Lindor smashed an RBI double off the leftfield wall above the head of Alex Gordon, bringing home pinch-runner Erik Gonzalez, and in the 10th, Jay Bruce doubled home Jose Ramirez.

The full list of teams to win at least 18 straight—which does not include the 1916 Giants (26 wins without a loss) or the 1906 White Sox (19) because both teams had ties in the middle of their streaks—is as follows:

2017 Indians: 22

1935 Cubs: 21

2002 Athletics: 20

1947 Yankees: 19

1904 Giants: 18

1953 Yankees: 18

Home/Road Split

While wins five through 15 of the streak came on the road, the Indians have had the luxury of playing at home for the past week, and they’ve now reached an even split in home games vs. road games during the streak:

Say what you will about the Cubs' long history of bad luck, but in 1935, the schedule-makers smiled upon them. Their streak began on the third game of a 20-game September homestand and extended three games into a five-game, season-ending road trip. The 1953 Yankees, on the other hand, contained the bulk of their streak within a 14-game road trip through Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit and Cleveland, then dropped one to the Browns upon returning to Yankee Stadium. The 1904 Giants had it comparatively easy as well; one of their road games was in Brooklyn’s Washington Park, roughly 12 miles away, and after another game against the Dodgers at the Polo Grounds, they embarked upon a four-game trip to Boston.

Speaking of schedule-makers, the 2002 A's got off light, as they're the only team not to have played at least one doubleheader during their run. The majority of the 1947 Yankees' streak—13 wins (the streak started in the nightcap of a doubleheader)—came in twinbills. This year's Indians and the 1935 Cubs both played two doubleheaders within their streaks. Cleveland's were played on Aug. 30 in New York and Sept. 1 in Detroit. The 1904 Giants and the '53 Yankees both played just one doubleheader apiece during their streaks.

Pythagorean Record

The Indians' run-differential of +105 is the best among these six teams and they rank first in the category of Pythagorean winning percentage, which is a calculation based on how many runs a team scores and allows. Their .936 mark would translate to roughly a 21-1 record, so they have outplayed their Pythagorean record during their winning streak:

Margin Of Victory

Cleveland remains comfortably in second place, behind only the 1904 Giants in this category, though five of their last six wins have been decided by a total of eight runs.

Biggest Gains

Which streaks produced the biggest gains in the standings relative to the competition?

Note that only the streaks of the 1935 Cubs and the 2002 A's carried those respective teams into first place—both were in third place prior—instead of widening their leads. In both cases, those winning streaks came late in the season and helped those clubs reach the postseason (the Cubs lost the World Series to the Yankees while the A's fell in the Division Series to the Twins).

Close Games

Win number 22 for the Indians was an anomaly, in that it was both the first extra-inning and walk-off victory of their streak. As might be expected, teams that are dominant enough to be on these lists probably weren’t going to be challenged very often. Just 17 of the games involved in all of these streaks combined have been decided by one run, and extra-inning or walk-off games have been even more scarce:

Opponents' Weighted Winning Percentage

The winning percentage of the Indians’ opponents isn’t far from being the hardest slate of this group, but between their four wins over the Royals (72-74) and three over the Orioles (72-75), they’ve prevented two teams from maintaining .500 or better records, lowering their count in wins against such teams.

With one more game against the Tigers (60-84, .417), the Indians’ opponent winning percentage will drop a bit, but it’s not far from being the hardest slate by that measure. What’s more, the number of games they’ve played against teams .500 or better could change depending upon whether the Royals (72-72) and/or Orioles (71-73) raise their games a bit.

Conclusion

So how would we rank these streaks in order of Most Impressive to Least Impressive? The 1953 Yankees had the toughest schedule by home/road split, the 1904 Giants made the biggest gain in the standings and had the largest margin of victory, this year's Indians have the best Pythagorean winning percentage and the 2002 A's had to survive the most close calls. And, of course, the 1935 Cubs have the lead in the most obvious category: longest winning streak.

That leaves the 1947 Yankees as the only team without the lead in a superlative from our breakdown. But here's the only one that really matters: they won the World Series, joining their '53 successors as the only clubs on this list to do so.

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