Indians punch playoff ticket with Angels' loss

Indians punch playoff ticket with Angels' loss

CLEVELAND -- There were no popping corks or players wearing protective goggles at Progressive Field on Thursday night. The champagne celebration will be reserved for the expected division crown.

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Hours after Cleveland extended its American League-record winning streak to 22 wins with a 3-2, 10-inning walk-off victory over the Royals, the Indians reserved a spot in the 2017 postseason. That is the first step toward the Tribe's goal of returning to and winning the World Series, and it was clinched when the Astros defeated the Angels in Anaheim.

"I'm going to keep saying it: It's a testament to this team," Indians starter Josh Tomlin said. "You play every out like we do, you pitch like we do, you do the little things like we do, practice like we do, everything we do, we do it together and we do it to try to be good.

Indians are 'Feeling 22'

"I think that's just a testament to the hard work that we've done throughout the course of the year to be able to clinch this year or clinch this homestand. It'd be nice to do it in front of our home fans. I don't think we got to do that at all last year."

No, last season's run to the World Series involved a series of celebrations within cramped clubhouses.

The Indians clinched the AL Central a year ago in Detroit and then sealed home-field advantage for the AL Division Series against the Red Sox while in Kansas City. In the playoffs, the Indians won their ALDS while on the road in Boston, and then clinched the AL pennant in Toronto.

With their win over Kansas City -- a victory delivered via a walk-off double by Jay Bruce -- the Indians lowered their magic number to three to clinch a second straight AL Central title. With three games left in this series against the Royals, that gives the streaking Tribe a chance to spray champagne at home.

That would certainly be rewarding for the Indians, who have been in awe of how their fans have turned these recent games into postseason-like settings. It is mid-September, but thanks to The Streak -- a run that trails only the MLB-record 26-game stretch by the 1916 New York Giants -- it has felt like October.

"They're fun games to play," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "The atmosphere, it kind of felt like a playoff game and that's invaluable."

Francona on making history

The rest of the AL postseason field still needs to be set, but it is not too early to peek ahead at the schedule.

The AL Wild Card Game will take place on Oct. 3 and will be aired by ESPN. Both ALDS pairings will begin on Oct. 5 and will be broadcast by either MLB Network or FS1. The ALCS is then set to start on Oct. 13, with FOX or FS1 carrying those games. The World Series, which the Indians lost in seven games to the Cubs last fall, is scheduled to begin on Oct. 24.

As things currently stand, the AL-leading Indians would host the winner of the AL Wild Card Game.

The fact that Cleveland has the AL's top seed right now is remarkable. Consider that the Indians were 14 games back of the AL West-leading Astros as recently as July 22. On that date, Cleveland was 50-45 and also three games behind the AL East-leading Red Sox for the right to host the ALDS that features the league's No. 2-3 seeds. Helped by their 22-game streak, the Tribe has gone 41-11 since to take over the top seed.

With Thursday's win, Cleveland also pulled within 3 1/2 games of the idle Dodgers for baseball's best record, which can net home-field advantage in the World Series.

"Hopefully we're just getting started here," Bruce said. "People are going crazy. It's a playoff atmosphere. We're trying to get the best record in baseball. So, we have a lot to play for, and I think it's the perfect combination for a team that's so far up [in the standings]. And I think everybody understands that, so it's huge."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.