Loose play has Cleveland Indians back in contention heading into All-Star Break

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No more than a week ago, the Cleveland Indians seemed to be trending in the direction of the league’s sellers heading into this month’s Trade Deadline. They were 10 games out of first place and six games under .500. Even worse, they dropped every series last week and ended the nightmare stretch with a three-game sweep at the hands of the Orioles. 

After winning last night’s extended affair in Pittsburgh, the Tribe has now rattled off five consecutive wins. They sit eight games behind the Kansas City Royals for the division and just 3.5 games off the Wild Card lead.

Indians’ starters were historically good in Tampa. Cody Anderson, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco became the first trio of starters in the live ball era to carry a no-hitter into the sixth inning in three consecutive starts. Corey Kluber threw eight innings of four-run baseball in a no decision and Trevor Bauer pitched another gem to turn over the rotation in Pittsburgh.

In this latest turn through the rotation, Indians starters have posted a 1.86 ERA, .117 opponents’ average (15-for-128) and a 5.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38.2 innings pitched.

Now within three games of the .500 mark, it isn’t just the game results that have changed for the Tribe this week.

Highly regarded a players’ manager, Terry Francona has kept the Tribe upbeat throughout the season and, despite the tough start, Francona has this team playing incredibly loose during this five-game run. That fact was no more evident than it was last night, as Bauer stepped to the plate and mimicked his teammates’ batting stances.

Take a look:

After the game, Bauer acknowledged his efforts to keep things loose in a game that went beyond midnight after the game was delayed for rain in the seventh inning (via Jordan Bastian of MLB.com): 

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"Obviously, I don’t think you do that when you’re down in a game or whatnot. I really don’t expect myself to get a hit. I don’t think anybody really expects me to get a hit, either. So I’m just trying to have some fun with it and keep things loose. It seems to be working for us recently. Everyone seems to be having a little more fun and joking around a little bit more."

Mike Aviles, who was the subject of one of Bauer’s stances, added:

"We’re winning. We’re having fun,” Aviles said. “Everybody was laughing. We were like, ‘Wait, that’s Kipnis. Oh, that’s Aviles. Oh, that’s Raburn.’ It was cool to see him go through all three in one at-bat. He worked him pretty good. He masked his normal approach, so I don’t think the pitcher knew what to throw. He had four hitters up there."

Even Francona has seemingly had more fun in the last week, as he and an “unidentified uniformed” Indians’ player or coach are accused of writing “Zep says hi” on former Tribe bullpen coach Kevin Cash‘s car in Tampa.

The tide is finally turning for the Tribe. The Cleveland Indians’ loose and fun-loving style of play might just be what propels them into the playoffs this season even despite their horrid start to a season once filled with high hopes.

Next: Santana finally hitting in the right spot

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