Series Preview #50: Cleveland Indians (81-68) at Kansas City Royals (78-71)

If you are a Cleveland sports fan and you are not following the Cleveland Indians at this point, shame on you.

With their four-game weekend sweep over the Chicago White Sox, the Indians (81-68) pulled within one-half game of the top spot in the American League Wild Card hunt. They have taken care of their own business, improving to 10-4 in September. They have also received some major help from the slumping Texas Rangers, losers of six straight and eleven of 13 in the month.

The Royals (78-71) are still hanging on in the Wild Card race, but are on the outside looking in. After dropping two of three in Detroit over the weekend, they have fallen to three and a half games in back of Texas and Tampa Bay at the top of the pack. They continue a difficult stretch of baseball this week, with three games against Cleveland and three against Texas over the weekend before finishing the season on the road in Seattle and Chicago.

In a rematch of last Wednesday’s game, Big Game James Shields (11-9, 3.38 ERA) and Scott Kazmir (8-8, 4.24) will square off on Monday night at 8:10 PM ET. Shields pitched into the ninth inning and allowed two runs in his last start, giving up two first inning and two ninth inning singles to the Indians while striking out seven. Kazmir has won just one of his last six starts. This will be his fifth start against the Royals this season; he enters the game with a 1-2 record and a 4.43 ERA on the season against Kansas City.

Left-hander Danny Duffy (2-0, 1.85) will start for the Royals in Tuesday’s 8:10 PM ET first pitch. He has walked nine batters in two September starts and eight innings pitched. It will be his sixth start of the season and his third career start against Cleveland (1-0 record and 5.23 ERA during the 2011 season). Corey Kluber (9-5, 3.55) is 2-0 in three starts against Kansas City with a 2.70 ERA. He has won each of his last two starts and is a perfect 3-0 in nine starts with a 2.72 ERA since the beginning of July.

Another left-hander, Bruce Chen (7-3, 3.11), will take the mound for the Royals at 8:10 PM ET on Wednesday in the season finale against the Indians’ Danny Salazar (1-2, 2.66). It will be the second start of the year for Chen against Cleveland. He has not allowed an earned run in 12 1/3 innings of work in four total appearances. Salazar will make his first career start against K.C. He has averaged just over 76 pitches per start in his last six games and has struck out 54 batters in 40 2/3 innings this season.

All three games will appear on Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio and Fox Sports Kansas City. On the airwaves, the games can be heard on the affiliates of the Cleveland Indians Radio Network or on KCSP 610 in Kansas City.

The Indians head to Missouri hot off of another four-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox. It was their third such sweep of the Sox this season and the second time in the Windy City. Cleveland had not swept Chicago at home in a four-game series since 1948 and now has done it twice this year.

Ryan Raburn was perfect at the plate and drove in five as the Indians thumped the White Sox 14-3 in the opener on Thursday. Raburn was 3-for-3 with a single, double, and home run on the game. Drew Stubbs added three hits of his own and four other players had two hits each. Nick Swisher and Asdrubal Cabrera both homered. Kluber pitched five innings and gave up two earned runs on six hits.

Salazar struck out nine Chicago batters of the eleven men he retired and the Indians bullpen allowed just one unearned run in five and one-third innings of work as the Indians were victorious on Friday, 3-1. Salazar walked a pair and gave up four hits but was otherwise dominant in his no-decision. Raburn, Stubbs, and Michael Brantley all drove in runs. Chris Perez earned his 24th save of the season.

A five-run fourth inning gave Cleveland all of the runs they would need and Ubaldo Jimenez pitched into the ninth inning in yet another strong start as the Indians defeated the White Sox 8-1 on Saturday. Jimenez (12-9) allowed a run, a walk, and eight hits while striking out eight in eight and one-third innings. Cabrera and Lonnie Chisenhall each homered in the fourth. Carlos Santana added a two-run single in the sixth and Raburn’s sacrifice fly in the ninth gave the Indians their eighth run.

After a rain delay of over four hours, the Indians rained more long balls on the city of Chicago on the way to a 7-1 win on Sunday to complete the sweep. Reserve outfielder Matt Carson drove in a pair of runs and was a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate with an RBI-single and a solo home run. Swisher hit two home runs, both solo shots, with one from each side of the plate. Cabrera added a three-run blast to rip the game open for McAllister (8-9), who pitched an effective six and two-thirds innings and allowed one run on six hits.

The Indians outscored the White Sox, 32-6, in the four game series. It marked the first time in the Indians’ 113-year history that they have swept three four-game series from one opponent in the same season and it is the first time in 50 years (1963 Los Angeles Dodgers over the New York Mets) that one team has accomplished that feat in a season.

Seven different Indians batters have batting averages above .275 against Shields, including Jason Kubel (.391), Mike Aviles (.333), Brantley (.333), Jason Kipnis (.308), Santana (.304), Michael Bourn (.294), and Cabrera (.278).

Indians hitters have a combined .309 batting average against Chen. Carson is 3-for-5 in his career with a double and home run. Brantley has hit .529. Jason Giambi has four home runs and eight RBI in 16 career at bats.

Raburn has hit safely in seven of his last eight games and has reached base safely in nine straight efforts. He had driven in at least one run in seven straight games until Sunday night’s game. He is batting .429 in his last eight games with 15 RBI and three home runs.

Swisher hit .333 during his return trip to Chicago, where he played for the White Sox in 2008. He hit three home runs, drove in five, and reached base nine times during the four-game series. His two-homer performance Sunday night extended his streak of 20-homer seasons to nine straight years.

Despite hitting .163 in September, Cabrera’s bat has heated up. Five of his seven hits in the month have left the yard. He has driven in 13 runs during that span, including six in the series against Chicago.

Cleveland has drawn almost double the number of walks (60) as Kansas City has (31) in September.

The Indians’ team ERA in September is 2.71, second-best in the AL to the Oakland A’s (2.66). It has helped to pace them to the fourth-best record in baseball in the month.

The Royals dropped two of three to the Tigers in Detroit over the weekend.

Prince Fielder drove in three and Justin Verlander outpitched Chen, as Detroit won the series opener, 6-3, on Friday. Salvador Perez had a pair of RBI and Billy Butler added one of his own. Chen pitched four and one-third innings, allowing six runs on seven hits. Verlander allowed three runs on nine hits in six and two-thirds innings for his 13th win of the year. Joaquin Benoit saved his 19th.

A first inning RBI-triple proved to be the difference on Saturday, as Ervin Santana and three bullpen mates shut out the Tigers, 1-0. Eric Hosmer drove in Alex Gordon in the first inning with a triple to right-center field. Santana (9-9) allowed five hits and struck out five in six and two-thirds innings. Doug Fister allowed just the one run on eight hits in seven and two-thirds innings. Greg Holland saved his 43rd game of the season. The potential tying run, Fielder, was thrown out at the plate for the final out of the game.

An Alex Avila solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning broke a 2-2 tie, as the Tigers took the series on Sunday afternoon with a 3-2 victory. Jeremy Guthrie pitched a complete game for the Royals while earning his eleventh loss. He allowed 13 hits and a walk in eight innings of work. Max Scherzer pitched seven innings and gave up one run while striking out 12, but was denied his 20th win of the year. Gordon hit his 20th home run of the season. Benoit earned his 20th save.

Hosmer and Perez have been on a tear throughout September. Perez is hitting .364 with two home runs and nine RBI in 13 games. Hosmer has hit .358 with five extra base hits of his own and a team high 10 RBI in 14 games.

Gordon has hit five home runs this month, one quarter of his season total.

Mike Moustakas and Perez have both hit .400 against Kluber. Current Royals have hit a combined .312 in their careers against Kazmir.

The Royals have stolen 20 bases in September, tops in baseball. They also lead the MLB in thefts on the entire season with 142, 13 more than the Milwaukee Brewers.

Their pitching staff is top in the AL in ERA on the season with a 3.50 mark. Their bullpen is tops in the league with a 2.55 ERA for the season and is second with 48 saves.

The Royals will be without backup Carlos Pena, who underwent an emergency appendectomy on Saturday morning. He is likely out for the remainder of the season.

On Thursday, the Indians will return home for a four-game series with the Houston Astros. The Royals will host the Texas Rangers beginning Friday.

Photo: John Gress/Getty Images

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