CLEVELAND -- As champagne dripped from the ceiling inside Progressive Field's home clubhouse, Chris Antonetti took a moment to appreciate what his team had accomplished. The Indians' president of baseball operations saw a group of players celebrating another division title, but hungry to check more items off their October to-do list.
No one in that drenched locker room was content with just having reached the World Series a year ago. And they head into this postseason driven to end the franchise's 69-year championship drought.
"It's a great sign of our organization," Antonetti said. "First and foremost, we have a group of guys in this clubhouse that go about it the right way. What they accomplished last year, and what they were able to come together and do again this year, really says a lot about them and their mindset and the way they've been able to persevere through a lot the last two years."
That celebration at home was made possible due to an American League-record winning streak that spanned 22 games. During that incredible run, every facet of Cleveland's game was operating at the ideal level. The rotation was dominating, the offense was churning out runs early and often and the bullpen was slamming the door. It was a three-week look at why this Indians team will be a heavy favorite on the postseason stage.
"We didn't get out the gates the way we wanted to," Jason Kipnis said. "We knew, once the games got important, once the guys started getting closer to the playoffs, guys were going to turn it up. You saw what happens -- the 22-game win streak. It's fun to see these guys let loose a little bit. You can tell everyone has their eyes on the prize, the bigger prize here."
Here are three reasons why the Indians can win the World Series:
1. The rotation is healthy and historic
A year ago, Cleveland's rotation was ravaged with injuries and the team was working with a patchwork pitching staff. This time around, ace Corey Kluber has powered a group that has set all-time single-season marks in strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings. Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer have been one of baseball's top starting trios this season, and with a fourth starter possibly in the plans for October, manager Terry Francona will have more flexibility with his rotation than he did during last year's run to the Fall Classic.
2. Miller, Allen again lead deep and versatile bullpen
Partially by design, but also due to the rotation injuries, the Tribe's bullpen nearly logged as many innings as the rotation in the playoffs last season. Relief ace Andrew Miller set a single-postseason relief record with 10 multi-inning appearances, and closer Cody Allen also shouldered a heavy load. This year, Francona moved starter Mike Clevinger to the bullpen to provide the relief corps with another multi-inning weapon. Between Clevinger, Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith, Francona should be able to bridge the gap to Miller and Allen, while also avoiding wearing them down.
3. Since adding Bruce, lengthened lineup has excelled
The Indians have a pair of MVP-caliber lineup catalysts in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, but the real turning point for the lineup arrived on Aug. 9. That is when Cleveland swung a deal with the Mets to bring slugger Jay Bruce into the fold. With Lindor and Ramirez sparking the top of the order, Bruce fortified a middle that already had Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana. After Bruce came aboard, the offense blossomed over the season's final two months. Santana, specifically, took off at the plate in the second half.
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.