BASEBALL is a sport in which it can be hard to tell the difference between lucky and good. One of the strongest arguments for maintaining the grinding 162-game schedule in North America’s Major League Baseball (MLB) is that the best teams only win around 60% of the time, and only beat the worst ones at roughly a 70% rate—meaning that very large samples of performance are needed to give the cream of the crop enough time to rise to the top. The sport’s “signal-to-noise” ratio is so low that even its most hallowed accomplishments, such as perfect and four-home-run games, can be achieved by players with relatively modest resumes.

For teams, long streaks of consecutive wins or losses tend to fall into this category. However, the Cleveland Indians, who set a new all-time record on September 14th with their 22nd straight victory—a thriller in which they were down to their final strike before coming back to prevail in extra innings—are challenging that notion. They’ve been a little bit lucky, but mostly, they’ve been really, really good.

Winning streaks anywhere near as long as the Indians’ current run are exceedingly rare. The previous record of 21 straight victories was established by the 1935 Chicago Cubs, and the only other club to win 20 in a row was the Oakland Athletics in 2002. (The 1916 New York Giants went unbeaten for 26 straight contests, but played a tie game midway through that stretch.) In the past 60 years, no other team has won more than 16 in a row. The odds against an average team stringing together 22 consecutive wins at some point in the season are nearly 60,000 to one; even for an elite squad, as the Indians appear to be, the chances are roughly one in 200. Since clubs of Cleveland's calibre come along only infrequently, streaks of this length are rightfully rare.

The Indians have beaten the odds and broken the record by, essentially, playing like an all-star team. Over their 22 games dating back to August 24th, they’ve allowed a mere 37 runs—an average of 1.68 per game, barely one-third of the league-wide mark of 4.73. They’ve outscored their opponents by nearly a factor of four, 142 to 37, and hit more home runs (41) than they’ve allowed runs in total. Their pitching staff has held opponents scoreless seven times, more than the rest of the league has averaged for the entire 145-game season thus far. Their record-breaking 3-2 victory against the Kansas City Royals was the first game of the streak in which the Indians required extra innings, and only the second in which their margin of victory was a single run.

If the Indians were to keep up such a staggering run differential for an entire season, baseball’s Pythagorean formula, which estimates winning percentage based on runs scored and runs allowed, predicts they would win 149 of 162 games. Clearly some luck is involved, as every member of the club has gone on a tear at the same time. Yet the 125 games that preceded the streak were nearly as unkind to the Indians as the past 22 have been generous. The hot streak has improved the Indians’ won-lost record to 91-56, first in the American League and second in baseball to the Los Angeles Dodgers who, despite a dreadful September that has been a near mirror image of Cleveland’s good fortunes, still sit atop the table at 94-52. Yet even after the 22-game winning streak, the club’s record actually underestimates its quality. By Pythagorean winning percentage, 91 wins is six too few: they have the run-scoring and run-preventing abilities of a 97-win team, on pace for an eye-popping 107-55 full-season record.

In other words, Cleveland was due—maybe not for a once-in-a-century winning streak, but certainly for a much better September than the months that preceded it. The late-season correction to their record has guaranteed them a place in the postseason. And if they live up to the expectations set by their run differential and wind up surpassing the Dodgers, they can secure home-field advantage through all three rounds of the playoffs. Any Indians player would surely trade the notoriety of the streak for an extra win in October: last season, Cleveland lost the deciding game of the World Series in extra innings, just as the franchise did in 1997. The Indians are still looking for their first championship since 1948.

So with 22 straight wins and the talent to match, is 2017 likely to be Cleveland’s year? In baseball, even the most compelling narratives tend to fall victim to the harsh laws of probability, and late-season hot streaks hardly ensure playoff success. The 2002 Athletics, who also began their winning streak in mid-August, lost in the first round of the postseason. In general, regular-season “momentum” doesn’t confer any additional benefits: September records aren’t any more predictive than, say, wins and losses in May. For proof, look no further than the Dodgers, who started September with a 91-41 record and triggered speculation that they could end up among the greatest teams of all time, only to kick off an 11-game losing streak a day later. They head toward the playoffs as chastened as the Indians are giddy.

The best argument in favour of the Indians’ chances isn’t the magic of their current streak, but their impregnable pitching. In the past, elite run prevention has been a sine qua non for championship clubs. Even before the streak began, Cleveland’s staff showed signs of becoming the best in baseball. And during the past three weeks, it has delivered a convincing closing argument. The purest measures of pitching quality—and best predictors of future performance—are strikeouts, walks, and home runs, the events that end a plate appearance without involving the fielders. And over their first 147 games, Cleveland’s pitchers not only have allowed the fewest walks and homers of any MLB team, but have struck out an unfathomable ten opposing batters per nine innings as a group. That record-setting rate is so extraordinary that there are only three individual starting pitchers not on the Indians in the entire American League whose figure is as high as the average for Cleveland’s whole pitching staff.

Nonetheless, even after 22 wins in a row, the smart money is still against the Indians—simply because the MLB playoffs, which consist of three rounds of short series contended between good teams, remain a crapshoot. Facing teams that are only slightly worse than they are, the Indians would probably be a 60/40 or at best 70/30 favourite in any given playoff series. In turn, that means they are highly likely to lose at least one of the necessary three rounds to an inferior club by luck alone. Three prominent postseason forecasting algorithms all see the Indians as the strongest team in MLB, yet none grant them more than a 27% chance of claiming the title. Betting markets agree, putting their odds at just over 20%. Cleveland’s odds of hoisting a World Series trophy have not been this good at this point in the season in over 20 years. But that doesn’t make the road ahead of them any easier.