The Cleveland Indians sent a message, not only to the Kansas City Royals or the American League Central but to all of baseball this weekend – the Tribe is for real and they are not going anywhere.
In a rain-delayed Sunday at Progressive Field, the Indians used four home runs of support and a strong but shortened quality start from Corey Kluber in blanking the Royals by a 7-0 score.
With their fifth straight win, the Indians (31-24) extended their lead in the AL Central to a game and a half over the Royals (30-26). Kansas City was outscored by Cleveland 23-6 in the four-game series sweep and has now lost four straight after coming into Progressive Field on a six-game winning streak.
“It’s nice to finish strong, especially against them,” said Mike Napoli after the game. “We’re playing good team baseball, we’re getting good pitching, timely hitting, good defense. That’s what we strive for, to play like this, and hopefully keep it going on this road trip.”
Kluber began his day with his toughest inning in the first, giving up back-to-back one-out singles to Whit Merrifield and Eric Hosmer. A ground ball double play, Jason Kipnis to Francisco Lindor to Carlos Santana, ended the threat.
A one-out triple from Kipnis in the bottom of the first off of Royals starter Chris Young put the Indians in a prime scoring situation and they did exactly that as his middle infield buddy Lindor lifted a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Kipnis to make it 1-0.
Kluber issued a walk to Reymond Fuentes with two outs in the second, but then retired nine straight, including striking out a pair in the third and the side swinging in the fourth. His teammates threatened with two on and two outs in the second, but they broke the game open with a run in the fourth and three more in the fifth, using some power to get the job done.
Napoli led off the fourth for the Tribe and took the first offering from Young of the inning and reassigned the baseball for use as a souvenir with his 14th home run of the season, this one to right center. The next three up would go down in order, but the Indians would lead off the fifth in the same manner as the fourth. Tyler Naquin drove a 2-2 pitch out to right to give Cleveland a 3-0 lead. The power display was about to erupt into a home run derby, as Santana stepped to the plate with one out and hammered an 0-1 pitch down the right field line to make it 4-0. A groundout from Kipnis was good for the second out, but the Indians’ Lindor did it again with a homer to right to make it a 5-0 game and a three-homer inning for the Tribe. It also ended the afternoon for Young, with four homers allowed on his stat sheet.
Kluber returned for the sixth, walking the leadoff man before getting a liner to short and a pair of grounders to end the inning. The tarp was brought out after the top half of the inning with rain showers present and with more on the way, delaying the game for over three hours before it resumed at 5:50 PM.
When the game resumed, the Indians offense wasted little time picking up right where it left off.
After quick 1-2-3 innings by each club, the Indians started the seventh with a leadoff double the opposite way from Naquin against lefty reliever Scott Alexander. Naquin moved to third on a passed ball and Juan Uribe drew a walk. Santana singled Naquin in with a shot to left, moving pinch-runner Michael Martinez up to second. Martinez went to third on a double play ball by Kipnis, but would score on a two-out single to right from Lindor to make it a 7-0 game.
Zach McAllister worked two scoreless innings in relief, retiring all six he faced and had two strikeouts. Austin Adams allowed a double, but struck out three in the inning, possibly his last for the immediate future.
“When Zach came in, he really threw the ball well,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “It ended up being a good day all around, other than it was long, but it’s a heck of a lot better when you’re up than you’re down.”
The Royals were limited to just three hits on the afternoon, the pair of first inning singles by Whitfield and Hosmer, and a ninth inning double by Alcides Escobar.
TRIBE OWNING THE CENTRAL
Cleveland improved their winning streak within the division to seven straight games and is now 18-7 against their key division rivals this season, including a 6-1 mark against the World Champs. The Indians will head west for an extended road trip, but will return to AL Central action next Monday against the Royals on KC’s home field.
The game and a half lead is the Indians’ largest lead in the Central since May 21, 2013.
HOW SWEEP IT IS
The Indians had not swept the Royals in a four-game series since August 11-13, 2006 (including a doubleheader on August 12). It concluded an eleven-game home winning streak by the Indians over the Royals.
A HIGH QUALITY KLUBER
The Indians got a quality outing and a gem overall from Kluber (5-6, 3.84 ERA), whose day ended after the long rain delay. He threw six innings, giving up two hits and walking a pair while striking out six batters on the day.
“We probably got a little bit fortunate in that it held off enough that Kluber went six, because he was throwing so well,” said Francona. “That, and then we kept adding on.
“I thought he pitched in, both lefties and righties, and commanded extremely well. I think he had one walk, that four-pitch walk to the leadoff hitter, but other than that, he used both sides, probably as good as he has, and just really pitched. His command was so good.”
He threw first pitch strikes to 17 of the 21 batters he faced on the afternoon.
YOUNG THROWS HOME RUN DERBY AGAIN
Young (2-6, 6.37), the 6’10” right-hander making his nine start of the season and eleventh appearance overall, was once again victimized by the long ball. He allowed four solo shots on Sunday, which surprisingly is not a season-high for the Royals pitcher, who allowed five solo shots in two and two-thirds innings in his last start on May 9 in a loss to New York.
For the game, Young worked four and two-thirds innings, allowing five runs on six hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
NAQUIN’S THIRD ACT
Naquin continues to be on fire at the plate, stepping up big to fill the shoes vacated by Marlon Byrd. He connected on his third home run in as many days, giving the Indians an important early run. He added a double in the seventh to reach base safely all three times to the plate and scored his second run on the afternoon with his 2-for-2 day with a walk.
NAPOLI’S HOME RUN HAPPY HOMESTAND
Napoli had hits in nine of the ten games on the Indians homestand and has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games. During the homestand, Napoli was 10-for-36 (.278) with one double, six home runs, eleven runs scored, and 12 RBI. He also had just nine strikeouts in that span.
“I’ll take it,” said Napoli about his recent power surge being aided some by the weather Sunday. “I’ve hit some balls where the wind was gusting in…I was playing the elements. I’ll take it.”
CHAMBERLAIN ON THE WAY
Reliever Joba Chamberlain may return from the 15-day disabled list when the Indians start their ten-game road trip on Monday. He threw a 20-pitch simulated game over the weekend and was not expected to need a rehab assignment before rejoining the bullpen. A corresponding roster move would need to be made in order to add Chamberlain back to the roster, which could be the reliever Adams.
RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY
The finale of the four-game series at Progressive Field was delayed three hours and ten minutes by thunderstorms.
HIT THE ROAD
The Indians completed their homestand with a 6-4 record and will leave town in the top spot in the Central, riding a five-game winning streak. They will take their show on the road to MLB’s farthest reaches, taking on the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field for four games beginning Monday night at 10:10 PM ET.
Photo: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images