Let's be direct here: This shouldn't happen at the major league level. One team should not go 18-1 against another. It feels almost impossible in a sport where the spread between the best winning percentages and worst winning percentages is not as large as in the NBA or the NFL. Bad teams beat good teams all the time. It's the nature of baseball.
But it happened. The Cleveland Indians beat the Detroit Tigers 7-0 on Thursday, finishing the season series with an 18-1 record against Detroit. That had never happened before. Since the majors split into divisions in 1969, no team had defeated an opponent 18 times. Since the format of 19 games against division opponents began in 2001, the best record had been 17-2 (including the Yankees against the Orioles this season).
Of course, the Tigers aren't exactly the 1998 Yankees:
The 1998 Yankees, perhaps the best team ever, had a run differential of +309.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) September 20, 2019
The 2019 Tigers have a run differential of -306.
Still, how does a team go 18-1? Let's find out with a quick game-by-game recap!
April 9 at Detroit: Indians 8, Tigers 2
It seems so long ago when Leonys Martin and Brad Miller were on the Indians. It's OK if you don't recall those halcyon days of April and May. Indians fans probably don't remember them either. They hit two of the club's four home runs.
April 10 at Detroit: Tigers 4, Indians 1
This is it. The victory. Matthew Boyd allows one run in six innings, Niko Goodrum and John Hicks homer off Trevor Bauer, the Tigers make no errors and Detroit ends the day 8-4 and in first place, half a game ahead of the Indians.
April 11 at Detroit: Indians 4, Tigers 0
Shane Bieber wins his first game of the season, tossing seven shutout frames and allowing three hits. Martin doubles and homers -- on his way to a .199 average for Cleveland.
June 14 at Detroit: Indians 13, Tigers 4
The Tigers allow 17 hits, walk five batters, allow six unearned runs and strike out 10 times. Not a good night at the ball yard.
June 15 at Detroit: Indians 4, Tigers 2
Too much Bieber again. He fans 12 in 7.2 innings.
June 16 at Detroit: Indians 8, Tigers 0
Bauer throws the four-hit shutout. Tigers pitchers surrender 14 hits and six walks. Are you getting the idea Detroit's offense may be on the weak side?
June 21 at Cleveland: Indians 7, Tigers 6
Game tied in the bottom of the eighth, Jose Ramirez singles on a dribbler down the line to start the winning rally. Jason Kipnis hits what the umpires rule is a home run, but replay overturns the call and Kipnis instead has a triple. He scores anyway on a sac fly. In the top of the ninth, JaCoby Jones doubles to lead off and Christin Stewart singles him home. Then this happens:
Tigers lose 7-6.
June 22 at Cleveland: Indians 2, Tigers 0
If you're going to make your major league debut, the 2019 Tigers were a pretty good team to make it against. Aaron Civale allows two hits in six scoreless innings.
June 23 at Cleveland: Indians 8, Tigers 3
July 15 at Cleveland: Indians 8, Tigers 6
The Tigers hit four home runs! But the Indians bang out 14 hits including two home runs by Oscar Mercado, the second one breaking a 5-5 tie after a rain delay:
July 16 at Cleveland: Indians 8, Tigers 0
If you're counting, this is four shutouts in 11 games. Four pitchers combine for the one-hitter.
July 17 at Cleveland: Indians 7, Tigers 2
Mike Clevinger fans 12 in six innings as the Indians' staff combines for 17.
July 18 at Cleveland: Indians 6, Tigers 3
This would turn out to be Bauer's final home game in an Indians uniform. He fans 10 and Brad Hand strikes out four as the Indians get 14 K's -- that's 31 over two games. If you're counting.
Aug. 27 at Detroit: Indians 10, Tigers 1
Adam Plutko and three relievers allow three hits and record 15 strikeouts. The Tigers allow 13 hits, five walks, six unearned runs, throw a wild pitch, hit a batter and give up three home runs.
Aug. 28 at Detroit: Indians 4, Tigers 2
It's tied 2-2 in the top of the eight when Francisco Lindor hits one just far enough:
Aug. 29 at Detroit: Indians 2, Tigers 0
Yep, another shutout. Clevinger goes eight innings, Hand closes out the four-hitter.
Sept. 17 at Cleveland: Indians 7, Tigers 2
The Indians rip out eight extra-base hits. The Tigers do not.
Sept. 18 at Cleveland: Indians 2, Tigers 1 (10 innings)
Civale goes 7.2 innings, but the game goes extra innings. How does the winning run score? Roberto Perez leads off the inning reaching on an error. After a bunt, an intentional walk, a groundout and another intentional walk -- that's two more intentional walks than the Astros have issued all season, by the way -- Yasiel Puig just misses a walk-off grand slam:
Sept. 19 at Cleveland: Indians 7, Tigers 0
That's 17 straight wins over the Tigers and six shutouts for Cleveland in the season series. Not only did the Indians outscore the Tigers in 18 of 19 games, the Tigers had more hits than the Indians in just one game (the one they won). The season stats against each other:
Indians batting: .302/.367/.524, 29 home runs, 6.11 runs per game
Tigers batting: .200/.239/.331, 16 home runs, 2.0 runs per game
The Indians ended up outscoring the Tigers 116 to 38, a plus-78 run differential (4.11 per game). Where does this season destruction rank on the all-time list? Some others that I found (not comprehensive):
Division era shutouts (10 or more wins)
1993 Braves vs. Rockies: 13-0, +56 runs (4.31 per game)
1996 Indians vs. Tigers: 12-0, +51 runs (4.25 per game)
1998 Yankees vs. Royals: 10-0, +56 runs (5.6 per game)
Division era domination
2019 Yankees vs. Orioles: 17-2, +68 runs (3.58 per game
2006 A's vs. Mariners: 17-2, +60 runs (3.16 per game)
1986 Mets vs. Pirates: 17-1, +55 runs (3.06 per game)
1975 Reds vs. Cubs: 11-1, +48 runs (4.0 per game)
1974 Braves vs. Padres: 17-1, +62 runs (3.44 per game)
1974 Dodgers vs. Padres: 16-2, +82 runs (4.56 per game)
Dominant teams of the past
1954 Indians vs Red Sox: 20-2, +58 (2.64 per game)
1953 Dodgers vs. Pirates: 20-2, +63 runs (2.86 per game)
1939 Yankees vs. Browns: 19-3, +85 runs (3.86 per game)
1927 Yankees vs. Browns: 21-1, +85 runs (3.86 per game)
Fun note: The Dodgers went 16-2 against the Mets in 1962 and 1963.
As you can see, Cleveland's dominance over Detroit is one of the most impressive examples we've seen. But get this: The Astros might match that 18-1 record. Houston is 16-1 against Seattle with two games remaining. Their run differential per game, however, is a mere 3.24.