The Indians started May the same way they finished April, with a come-from-behind win against the Tigers.
The Tribe finished Sunday in first place in the AL Central with some pretty impressive numbers:
- They are riding a 13-game home winning streak
- They have the best run differential (+47) in the majors
- They have the best record in the majors
- They are tied with Colorado for the largest division lead (4.5 games)
- They had the best April in the team’s 111-year history
For the past few weeks, while the Tribe has built their lead, we’ve all heard that “it’s still early.”
But is it really?
Since Major League Baseball went to six divisions in 1995, there have been 96 division champions, according to ESPN.
Not counting 1995 (since the strike-shortened season started in late April), 49 of the 90 champions were in first place on May 1. That’s just a 54.4 percent success rate, so the numbers suggest the Indians may want to hold off just a little bit on printing playoff tickets.
But if you go a little deeper and look at the Central Division, the Tribe may be in a better position than the other division leaders.
Five times in the past seven years, the team leading the Central Division on May 1 has gone on to win the division. The two times it didn’t happen, the Twins beat out the White Sox, in 2006 and again in 2009.
The Twins came from nine games back in 2006, but they were only a half-game back in 2009.
So the fact that the Indians carry a healthy lead over the rest of the division (4.5 over KC, 7.5 over Detroit, 10 over Chicago and Minnesota) is important. Not only do Central Division teams rarely overcome the early season leaders, they also don’t make up large deficits.
Tribe manager Manny Acta likes to say that every team wins 60 games and loses 60 games, and it is the other 42 games that matter.
Well what if the come-from-behind wins this weekend against Detroit are part of those other 42 games?
Why can’t the Indians keep this going? They can pitch and play defense, which are two things will keep them in the game most nights. Just because the national media didn’t think they were going to be good this year doesn’t mean the team has to buy into it.
Sure, it’s only May 1 and there is still a lot of baseball to be played.
But maybe, as Yogi Berra once said, for the rest of the teams in the division, it really is getting late early.