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Is the Indians' winning streak already the greatest in MLB history? Probably

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 9/12/2017 A.J. Perez, USA TODAY Sports

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Honus Wagner scored the Pittsburgh Pirates’ lone run in the top of the eighth inning on Sept. 18, 1916, to put the asterisk on the New York Giants’ 26-game winning streak. 

A thunderstorm moved in and play was suspended for weather --- not darkness, as was often the case in those days since stadiums lacked lights --- and the 13th game in the streak ended in a 1-1 tie.

And now the Giants' "record" winning streak has stood for 101 years.

The Cleveland Indians play in a decidedly different era: Integration, 30 major league teams, and in a home ballpark with a two-story sports bar and kids' clubhouse.

They are on a 20-game winning streak and tied the modern American League record with a 2-0 victory Tuesday night over the Detroit Tigers.

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And just how can the Indians' feat be contextualized, when their historic rivals span centuries in a game that's constantly evolving?

“A lot of things have changed since some of the other streaks,” Matt Rothenberg, manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the Baseball Hall of Fame, told USA TODAY Sports. “Free agency, for one, has only came into baseball over the last 40 years. Teams were more consistent back then. There are just so many factors when you look at the 1916 Giants versus the 2017 Indians. There have been so many innovations in the game.”

As the Indians shoot for 21, and at the risk of succumbing to recency bias, an examination of the streaks that preceded them:

About that modern AL record

The 2002 Oakland Athletics started their 20-game streak 4 1/2 games back and finished 3 1/2 games up on Sept. 4 in the standings en route to the AL West title.

While the A's got stellar starting pitching in the streak - starters Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Cory Lidle and Aaron Harang accounted for the first 11 wins - they also feasted on a favorable schedule. The teams they dispatched had a combined season-ending record of 444-526 and only the Minnesota Twins finished the season with a winning record. 

Those other 20-game streaks

The St. Louis Maroons started the season on a 20-game winning streak in 1884 in the lone season the Union Association existed before it shuttered operations. Fred Dunlap, who batted .412 that season, had the highest reported salary on the team per Baseball Reference: $3,600.

The other team to go on a 20-game run --- also in 1884 --- was the Providence Grays. The Grays won the World Series that season, which came a year before the Rhode Island team folded.

The longest streak didn’t matter

The New York Giants' streak in 1916  - even if there was that tie - allowed the club to go from 14 games out to five games back in the NL standings. The Giants, however, finished fourth in the league and well out of a playoff spot in the eight-team NL.

It was, indeed, the Dead Ball Era: Twelve home runs was enough for the Giants' Dave Robertson and Chicago Cubs' Cy Williams to share the league lead.

“What stands out about most these teams is that despite the streaks, not all of them had great seasons,” Rothenberg said. “It’s really a mixed bag.”

White Stockings/Cubs hit on 21

The Chicago White Stockings, the forerunner of the Chicago Cubs, went 67-17 in 1880, a season that included a 21-game winning streak. The White Stockings had 13 players on their roster; the league leader that season for home runs that season: six.

The 1935 Cubs had a 21-game streak en route to the NL pennant, although they lost to Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Up until last year’s Cubs team that broke 108-year championship drought, the 1935 Cubs were the last to win 100 games in a season. 

As for the Indians...

There's no telling where this run will finish, but already Terry Francona's crew has accomplished some outlandish things. 

The streak started by toppling likely Cy Young Award winner Chris Sale of the Red Sox. 

It included an 11-0 road trip, highlighted by a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium.

And the Indians have outscored opponents 134-32 - yes, 102 runs - entering Wednesday's game. They have hit more home runs - 38 - than their pitchers have allowed runs - 32. 

We won't know until it ends where this streak ranks purely on length. On merit, the Indians may already stand alone. 

Related slideshow: Best of 2017 MLB season (provided by photo services)

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 23: Matt Davidson #24 of the Chicago White Sox lose his bat as he bats against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning on September 23, 2017 at Guaranteed Rate Field  in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) 2017 MLB Season

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