Faced with a potentially dangerous ten-game road trip and armed with a devastatingly underwhelming road record on the season, the Cleveland Indians quelled some of the doubters as they claimed their third consecutive series win over the weekend. The show goes on with a quick trip through Kansas City on Tuesday and Wednesday as they look to rough up the Royals.
The Indians (33-31) started out their road trip about as good as could be expected, especially given their woes on the road this season. They dropped Friday’s opener 6-4 as the usually strong bullpen allowed a pair of late inning runs, ending the club’s six-game winning streak. Cleveland then ripped off three straight wins, beginning with eight-plus innings from Josh Tomlin in an 8-3 win on Saturday. On Sunday, they squeezed by with a 3-2 victory behind a good start from Justin Masterson. The offense erupted on Monday night, capped by the three homer, five hit, nine RBI performance for the ages from Lonnie Chisenhall in a 17-7 win.
The win, coupled with a loss from first place Detroit, pulled the Indians within two games of the front running Tigers for the division lead. The American League Central Division is the tightest of the six divisional races in all of baseball, as only five games separate the last place Minnesota Twins from the top of the pack.
The Royals (31-32) took two of three from the New York Yankees over the weekend, with Mother Nature claiming the finale on Monday night. The Yankees defeated Jeremy Guthrie on Friday night, 4-2, behind three runs batted in from Brian McCann. A four-run sixth, led by Salvador Perez’s three-run homer, gave the Royals an 8-4 win on Saturday. Kansas City held on for a 2-1 win on Sunday behind a solid six innings from James Shields.
Left-hander Jason Vargas (5-2, 3.28 ERA) had his start pushed back to Tuesday night at 8:10 PM ET after Monday’s rainout. He earned a no-decision against St. Louis his last time out despite allowing just two runs over eight innings. Corey Kluber (6-3, 3.23) will counter for Cleveland. He allowed four earned runs against Boston in his last start, the second shortest outing of his season (six and one third innings).
Kansas City will send young fireballer Yordano Ventura (3-5, 3.41) to the mound on Wednesday afternoon against Trevor Bauer (1-2, 4.08). Ventura got back into the win column in his last outing after throwing six consecutive winless starts. Bauer has pitched six innings or more in four of his five starts this season. First pitch is scheduled for 2:10 PM ET.
Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio and Fox Sports Kansas City will broadcast both games. The affiliates of both the Cleveland Indians Radio Network and Kansas City Royals Radio Network will handle the radio calls throughout the series.
Pitcher Zach McAllister (lower back strain) is scheduled to make another rehabilitation start before the club assesses his situation. First baseman Nick Swisher (hyperextended left knee) is scheduled to start his own assignment on Tuesday at Double-A Akron.
Outfielder Nyjer Morgan (sprained PCL in right knee) is on the 60-day DL.
Like the Indians, the Royals have a light disabled list as well.
Pitcher Bruce Chen is expected to return from the 15-day DL later in the month after dealing with a bulging disc in his lower back. He began a rehab assignment on Sunday. Third baseman Danny Valencia is also on the 15-day DL with a sprained muscle in his left hand.
Reliever Luke Hochevar is out for the season after March Tommy John surgery.
Somewhat quietly, Chisenhall has been one of the most productive players in all of baseball this season. He has hit in seven straight games, batting .500 (14-for-28) during that stretch with four home runs and 16 RBI. He is hitting .429 in the last two weeks and .440 over the last four weeks, proving that this hot start to the season no longer looks like a fluke or aberration.
On the season, he is hitting .385, which would easily lead all of baseball if he qualified for the running. Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki is hitting .354 this season and on the AL side, Texas’s Alex Rios leads with a .335 average.
Maybe even more shockingly is his .520 batting average against left-handed pitching this season in 28 plate appearances. He entered the season hitting .194 in his career against southpaws, including a .111 mark last year.
While he has hit a strong .350 at home, he has been one of the few consistent players on the road, where he has five of his home runs, 19 of his 32 RBI, and a .420 batting average.
The Indians are 25-17 in games that he starts.
Alex Gordon has heated up of late. He is hitting .357 in his last ten games with three home runs and seven RBI. He is batting .250 on the season against Cleveland and .267 in his career.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar has hit safely in eight straight game, batting .407 during that span. He has hit .340 against left-handers this season, but just .257 against righties.
The Indians have eight different bats in the lineup hitting over .300 in the last week.
In addition to Chisenhall, George Kottaras is 2-for-4 (.500) and Yan Gomes is 7-for-19 (.368). David Murphy is hitting .348 with three doubles and four RBI. Michael Brantley is hitting .346 with a double, homer, and three RBI. Jason Kipnis has matched Brantley’s average while driving in five and stealing two bases. Asdrubal Cabrera has ten hits in 29 at bats (.345) with two blasts and five driven in. Even the slumping Carlos Santana has four hits in 13 at bats (.308) since returning from the disabled list with a home run and three knocked in.
Cleveland has maintained a 316-298 edge all-time against Kansas City since play began between the two clubs on June 13th, 1969, 45 years ago this Friday. The Royals are 159-144 while at home.
The Indians took three of four earlier this season from the Royals at Progressive Field. Kluber won the last matchup in a 5-1 final over Chen.
Chris James, whose name was brought back to attention courtesy of Chisenhall’s nine RBI game on Monday night, is one of 81 different players who has suited up for both the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals.
James spent ten years in the Majors, playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, and Boston Red Sox in addition to Cleveland and Kansas City.
James had started 19 games for Cleveland in 1991 before providing nearly half of the Indians’ run support on May 4th against the Oakland Athletics and starting pitcher Kirk Dressendorfer. Starting at first base, the player often forgotten about in the Joe Carter for Sandy Alomar and Carlos Baerga swap with San Diego the previous offseason went 4-for-5 at the plate, scoring three runs, slugging two three-run home runs, and driving in nine.
His RBI total for the season entering the game was five.
The road trip continues for Cleveland following their brief layover in Kansas City. They will head to Boston to tackle the Green Monster for four straight over the weekend beginning Thursday night. With their eight-game homestand concluded, the Royals will head to Chicago for three games with the White Sox after an off day on Thursday.
Photo: AP Photo/LM Otero