MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Five series, one question remain for Cleveland

With a favorable schedule, can anyone beat Indians?

Five series, one question remain for Cleveland

When the Indians visited Chicago last week, there was no way to know if they were playing well or playing poorly. The tone in the clubhouse was quiet, calm and understated, like a team trying to get through June after going 5-5 in its last 10 games.

"We're playing pretty good baseball, but it's fluid,'' manager Terry Francona said. "You've got a game tonight; you've got a game tomorrow. We don't get too caught up in streaks, whether it's bad or good. I don't think you set yourself up for success that way.''

The Indians have won nine games in a row since that conversation, including their historic 21st consecutive victory on Wednesday over the Tigers, tying the 1935 Cubs' record of 21 straight for the second-longest winning streak. They've passed the Astros to position themselves for the No. 1 seed in the American League and put themselves on the verge of clinching the AL Central with more than two weeks left in the regular season.

That's crazy. And here's something even crazier.

Given favorable pitching matchups and a schedule devoid of any of those playoff-preview series, the Indians could keep winning for another week, if not more.

As great as they are playing -- their run differential is plus-159 over their past 53 games -- it's possible they could surpass the 1935 Cubs' streak and then just keep rolling toward the record 26 straight amassed by the 1916 Giants.

This is astonishing given the parity in Major League Baseball. You shouldn't be able to do what the Indians are doing, but they're making it look so easy you think it might never end.

The imagination wanders when you look at their five remaining series.

Tribe on a 21-game win streak

The Indians have a .660 winning percentage against the teams they play. Royals lefty Jason Vargas could be the only opposing starting pitcher with double-digit wins they face until Sept. 28, when Kyle Gibson is projected to start for the Twins. And the Tribe continues to get more healthy, with Jason Kipnis and Andrew Miller the next name-brand players expected to join the team.

Who's going to beat them?

Kansas City Royals (Thursday-Sunday at Progressive Field)
The Royals sure hope they will, as they open a four-game series in Cleveland on Thursday, and they are only three games behind the Twins for the AL's second Wild Card spot entering play on Wednesday. They're going to be playing with a sense of urgency that might even set them up to win three of four.

But the Indians are 5-1 against Kansas City in the second half. If the Royals don't win on Friday, when Vargas faces Trevor Bauer, they could be in trouble.

The other pitching matchups heavily favor Cleveland. It's rookie Jakob Junis vs. Josh Tomlin on Thursday; Jason Hammel vs. Carlos Carrasco on Saturday and Sam Gaviglio vs. Corey Kluber on Sunday.

Los Angeles Angels (Sept. 19-21 at Angel Stadium)
The Indians will spend next week on the West Coast, and travel could take a toll. But the Tribe conveniently has days off before and after the trip that goes to Anaheim and Seattle, so the schedule shouldn't be too big of a factor.

The Indians are 3-0 against the Angels this season, sweeping them in late July at Progressive Field. They seem to know how to neutralize Mike Trout (14-for-50 with one home run vs. Cleveland the past three seasons). The starting pitchers the Indians are scheduled to face (Tyler Skaggs, Ricky Nolasco and Andrew Heaney) have combined to go 1-4 with a 6.98 ERA in nine starts during Cleveland's winning streak.

Seattle Mariners (Sept. 22-24 at Safeco Field)
Like the Royals and Angels, the Mariners are clinging to hope in the Wild Card race. They have veterans lined up to pitch against the Indians next weekend at Safeco Field, but Erasmo Ramirez, Ariel Miranda and Mike Leake better be on their game as they're tentatively set to face Carrasco, Kluber and Mike Clevinger.

Because of the off-day next Monday, Kluber and Carrasco will be working on extra rest. That's got to be good, even if they don't seem to need it.

Bruce on record winning streak

Minnesota Twins (Sept. 26-28 at Progressive Field)
Paul Molitor's team is the only one left on the Indians' schedule that currently is positioned to make the postseason field. The Twins could be the biggest surprise if they hold up, and they have been playing well for five weeks now (23-13 since Aug. 6).

The streak would have to be at 31 for this series to be anything more than a desperate fight for Minnesota to hold off multiple Wild Card contenders. The Indians lead the season series 10-6 so far, but the Twins swept a three-game series on their most recent visit to Progressive Field, in late June.

In the Twins' favor: For whatever reason, both of these teams like to play at the other team's park. The home team has gone 2-14 in the season series.

One possibly intriguing storyline in this series -- Bartolo Colon vs. his original team. But who knows if Colon will still be in Molitor's rotation. He had been pitching well, but he got knocked out in the second inning Sunday in Kansas City.

Chicago White Sox (Sept. 29-Oct. 1 at Progressive Field)
The last weekend of the season is always a trick bag. Francona figures to go easy on his regulars as he faces a White Sox team that could benefit from being swept, with the first overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft possibly at stake. The Indians outscored the Sox 30-10 in the four-game series in Chicago last weekend and lead the season series 11-5.

As a plus for the White Sox and the other remaining opponents: The Indians have to lose some time. Don't they?

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.