Trump, Clinton and Cleveland Baseball

What do the United States Presidency and a Major League Baseball playoff berth have in common? The road to both goes through Cleveland.

The Republican National Convention has set up its political circus in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. Its calliope stomp blares over the city. King James’ court has been sublet, an Air BnB for Donald Trump to couch surf to the Republican Nomination. The speeches and the yelling and the funny hats descending upon downtown Cleveland have temporarily distracted the 216 from a bizarre new truth:

Cleveland is a city of Champions.

Two things happened in the middle of June. First and foremost, LeBron James willed the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA Championship. The fountain which sat dry for generations suddenly gushed. The parched city drank itself silly on this new thing called “winning.” Like a lightweight at the frat party, Cleveland went from straight-laced to silly at the drop of a dime. They lined up for literal blocks to gobble NBA Championship merch. They went so far as to create a market for the bizarre “Shirtless JR Smith Tattoos” shirt.

Across the alley from Gund Arena, as if granted permission by LeBron, Cleveland’s Baseball team went on a tear. On June 18, 2016, Cleveland sat 0.5 games ahead of Kansas City atop the AL Central. Three weeks and 14 consecutive wins later, their lead ballooned to 8.

Neither the Cavs win nor Cleveland Baseball’s winning streak should come as any surprise. The Cavs have Lebron and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In a league ruled by Big Threes, the Cavs’ trio stands with the best of them.

Likewise, Cleveland Baseball has Corey Kluber, Carlos “Cookie” Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Baseball is a game where the defense always has the ball, where masterful pitching can trump even the best hitting. With Kluber, Carrasco and Salazar, Cleveland has three legit Cy Young threats. On any given day, Cleveland Baseball’s big three are capable of 9 innings and 10 Ks.

If those three weren’t enough, Trevor Bauer, the centerpiece of the three-team deal which saw Cleveland ship All-Star Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati, has finally found his groove. The kid has always had phenomenal “stuff.” Bauer’s problem was locating said “stuff.” His propensity for walks saw Cleveland Manager Terry Francona demote him to bullpen early in 2016.

But given another shot by injury, and working with Cleveland’s pitching coach (and pitcher-whisperer) Mickey Callaway, Trevor Bauer found control. Since returning to Cleveland’s starting rotation, Trevor Bauer has been one of MLB’s best pitchers. The strikeouts are there. The walks have diminished. His career ERA is 4.42. This year, Bauer’s increased control has seen an ERA just over 3.

If THAT weren’t enough, Cleveland’s 5th starter, Josh Tomlin, has quietly put up a 10-2 record. He’s a stingy innings-eater. He doesn’t issue walks. Fans should call him Vegas: when healthy, Tomlin does nothing but deal.

The Wins Above Replacement value of Cleveland’s starting pitching currently sits at a ridiculous 14.8. Even with the teams’ bullpen struggles (I’d like 1 Andrew Miller, please?), Cleveland’s total pitching WAR is 16.1, 3rd best in Baseball. The Pythagorean numbers suggest Cleveland should have 55 wins at this point in the season.

And guess what? Cleveland has 55 wins. The pitching was always going to be solid. The offense only needed to be adequate. Mike Napoli, king of the Three True Outcomes, has performed as expected. Tyler Naquin, given outfield playing time thanks to Marlon Byrd’s love affair with PEDs, has done nothing but hit. Jose Ramierez has been a Swiss Army knife, playing outfield and infield, hitting for average all the while. Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis have returned to the form that saw them earn All-Star honors. Even stud prospect, turned AAA demote, turned journeyman, Lonnie Chisenhall has shown flashes of brilliance.

And then there’s Franciso Lindor, Cleveland’s six-tool All-Star (in addition to speed, power, average, defense and a laser arm, Lindor has a swoon-worthy smile). Whatever Terry Francona needs, Frankie is game. If Michael Brantley can manage to fix his ailing shoulder (a big “if,” mind you) the sky is the limit for Cleveland Baseball going forward.

Cleveland atop the AL Central shouldn’t be “Trump-Running-For-President” surprising. Cleveland atop the AL Central should be “Hillary-Clinton-Running-For-President” expected. At this point, the road to October runs straight through Cleveland. Just as it should be.

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