It has been almost a month since the Indians and Royals have faced off on the diamond and things are certainly different for each ball club. When Kansas City came to town from May 6-8, they had dropped eight of their last eleven to fall to 14-13 and erase their hot start to the year. The Indians had just swept the Detroit Tigers to start a six-game homestand to improve to 13-12, pulling just one-thousandth of a point ahead of the Royals in the standings.
Now, the Royals (30-22) will look to put some distance between themselves and the third place Indians (27-24), who trail the hot KC club by two and a half game at the start of play on Thursday.
Kansas City comes to Cleveland victors of six straight games. Since last facing the Indians, they have won six of seven series, including each of the last six. After a 12-11 April, they went on a 17-11 tear in May. Their dominance of the AL Central is something for the Indians to be gravely concerned about, as they are 5-1 against both Chicago and Minnesota and 2-1 against Detroit. Only Cleveland boasts a winning record against the club, something that could change drastically if the Indians do not play at a high level over the next four days.
The Indians have been a roller coaster ride. They were finally able to get the .500 mark monkey off of their backs with a 16-13 May. They are 14-7 in the Central this season, including those two wins in three early chances in May against the Royals. But after returning home having heated up some with a 6-3 road trip through Cincinnati, Boston, and Chicago, they have managed just a 2-4 start to their current ten-game homestand.
Thursday, 6/2, 7:10 PM ET – RHP Yordano Ventura (4-3, 5.17 ERA) vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco (2-0, 2.45)
Friday, 6/3, 7:10 PM ET – RHP Edinson Volquez (5-4, 3.74) vs. RHP Danny Salazar (5-3, 2.39)
Saturday, 6/4, 7:15 PM ET – RHP Ian Kennedy (4-3, 3.03) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (7-1, 3.79)
Sunday, 6/5, 1:10 PM ET – TBD vs. RHP Corey Kluber (4-6, 4.15)
TV – Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio and Fox Sports KC (all but Saturday); Fox (Saturday)
Radio – Cleveland Indians Radio Network; Royals Radio Network; KCSP 610
Shawn Armstrong (RP) – recalled (May 31); optioned to Triple-A Columbus (June 1)
Michael Brantley (LF) – 15-day disabled list (May 10) – right shoulder inflammation
Marlon Byrd (OF) – placed on restricted list (June 1) – 162-game PED suspension
Carlos Carrasco (SP) – activated from 15-day disabled list (June 2)
Joba Chamberlain (RP) – 15-day disabled list (May 22) – left intercostal strain
Tom Gorzelanny (RP) – contract purchased from Triple-A Columbus (June 1)
Ryan Merritt (P) – optioned to Triple-A Columbus (May 31)
Tyler Naquin (OF) – recalled from Triple-A Columbus (June 1)
Roberto Perez (C) – 60-day disabled list (May 1) – fractured right thumb
Tim Collins (RP) – 60-day disabled list (April 3) – recovery from April 2016 Tommy John surgery
Brett Eibner (OF) – 15-day disabled list (June 1) – left ankle sprain
Alex Gordon (OF) – 15-day disabled list (May 23) – right wrist fracture
Kris Medlen (SP) – 15-day disabled list (May 11) – right rotator cuff inflammation
Mike Minor (SP) – 60-day disabled list (March 15) – recovery from May 2015 left shoulder surgery
Mike Moustakas – (3B) – 15-day disabled list (May 23) – torn right ACL
Jason Vargas (SP) – 60-day disabled list (February 19) – recovery from August 2015 Tommy John surgery
AL CENTRAL STANDINGS
After winning a pair against Kansas City at the beginning of May, Cleveland improved to 334-317 in 651 games against the Royals dating back to 1969.
The two teams have been evenly matched in the last five seasons, with both clubs victorious 39 times. Last season, the Royals took ten while the Indians claimed nine, but Kansas City held a 6-4 mark at Progressive Field.
First baseman Eric Hosmer has heated up just in time for a rematch with Cleveland. He has hit .538 in the last week with team highs in hits, doubles, homers, RBI, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS – all fairly insignificant numbers from the offensive side of the game, right? He has three doubles and a pair of homers to assist in his collection of a dozen RBI in that span.
He was hitting .333 when the clubs first met and is batting .328 now, so consistency has been a key component of his game this season. He is the club leader in hits (66), doubles (12), homers (10), and RBI (35) and is tied with Lorenzo Cain for the team lead in runs scored with 30. His only weakness this season has been lefties, who have contained him to a .219 average, which would help the Indians if they had more than just Gorzelanny on the entire 13-man pitching staff.
He was 4-for-11 (.364) with a double, homer, and three RBI at Progressive Field in May.
CAIN IS ABLE
Speaking of Cain, he hit .400 in the last week with ten hits in 25 at bats, including a pair of doubles and two more homers to go with his nine RBI. He has pushed his season batting average to .305 and is second on the club with eight homers and 34 RBI. He is also second in strikeouts with 46, trailing just Gordon’s 50.
All Royals players to appear in at least four games in the last week have hit no worse than .250. Eight of those ten players have hit at least .300 or better.
HITLESS IN CLEVELAND
The Indians’ budding star shortstop, 22-year-old Francisco Lindor, is in his longest hitting drought of the season – three games. He was held hitless in eleven at bats by Rangers pitching during the week, the first time he has exceeded two hitless games this season. His struggles at the plate have actually carried on a bit longer than this three-game stretch – in his last eleven games, he has gone 7-for-43 (.163) with six hitless games.
WHO PULLED THE PLUG AT PROGRESSIVE FIELD?
Lindor’s recent slow spell is not the only one causing issues for the Indians lineup.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis is in an almost identical slump, with four hits over his last 24 at bats for a .167 average in the last week. Cleveland’s two and three hitters, the necessary table setters to the Tribe lineup, have combined to go 7-for-46 (.152) in their last six games played with two doubles, two homers, seven walks, seven runs, and four runs batted in combined between the two of them on the homestand.
JRAM AND THE CHIZ KID
If there has been a positive from the Indians lineup during their current extended home stretch, it has been the production received from Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall. The two, linked last year by their shared early struggles, similar demotions, and more productive late season returns, have performed nicely this week.
Ramirez has ten hits in his last 20 at bats for a .500 average and an even more shocking .615 on-base percentage after drawing a team-leading six walks in that span.
Chisenhall is 7-for-16 (.438) with a pair of doubles, his first home run of 2016, and three runs batted in. His clutch leadoff double to start the eleventh inning on Wednesday night led to the winning run crossing the plate in Cleveland’s first walk-off victory of the season.
The 23-year-old Ramirez is hitting .315 with a .391 OBP in 45 games this season. Chisenhall, 27, has pulled his average up to .287 in 32 games.
HEADS UP IN THE BLEACHERS
First baseman Mike Napoli has gone on a bit of a home run tear at the plate and the timing could not be better.
The big right-handed slugger, who rarely gets cheated on a home run, had two blasts in the series with Texas to increase his season total to 12. He has homered in three of his last four games, four of his last six, and five of his last nine. After his 0-for-13 series against his former Boston teammates with nine strikeouts, he has driven in at least one run in a ball game in seven of his last nine games.
With their homestand concluded, the Indians will take their show on the road to the Pacific Northwest, where they will take on the Seattle Mariners in a four-game set from Safeco Field. It will be the start of a three-city road trip for ten days through Seattle, Los Angeles, and Kansas City. The Royals will head to Baltimore for the second stop on their own three-city, ten-game road trip to take on the Orioles for three before heading to Chicago to face the White Sox.
Photo: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner