The combination of a quality start, timely and clutch hitting, and another big long ball provided the Cleveland Indians with all of the necessary ingredients for an 8-3 win over the Atlanta Braves on Monday night, extending their winning streak to ten games, longest in the Majors this season.
The Indians (45-30) are now 4-0 to start their most recent ten-game road trip and have been winning in resounding fashion. In addition to incredible starting pitching, the bats have provided plenty of pop and power, as Cleveland has clobbered 21 homers and scored 68 runs during that stretch. Their current ten-game streak is the longest by the club since closing out the 2013 season with ten straight to reach the AL Wild Card Game. They are 15 games above the .500 mark for the first time since September 21, 2013, at the beginning of that last long winning streak.
Cleveland, who had used a barrage of triples and homers to take care of the Detroit Tigers in three straight over the weekend, had a slightly different approach at the plate, but the results would be the same at the end of the night.
The Indians got to the Braves starter, John Gant, after two were down in the first. Francisco Lindor doubled the opposite way into the left field corner on a solid piece of hitting before Mike Napoli laced a single past Gant’s outstretched glove and into center field for an RBI-single. He was thrown out trying to stretch it to two bases, but the damage was done and the Indians were out to a 1-0 lead.
Control was a slight issue early for Tribe starter Trevor Bauer. He struck out a pair and walked one in the first while aggressively attacking the strike zone, but put two on with free passes with two outs in the second before a grounder from his pitching counterpart ended the scoring threat. Gant would return to the mound to start the third, but during Bauer’s at bat with a runner on first, the Braves rookie left the game with an injury.
Atlanta tied the game in the third. Ender Inciarte reached safely on a fielder’s choice for the first out and moved to third on a single from Freddie Freeman. Nick Markakis hit the first pitch of his at bat to left, deep enough to score the runner from third to tie the game at 1-1.
The Indians wasted no time to take that lead back against Braves reliever Tyrell Jenkins (0-1, 7.20 ERA) in the top of the fourth. Lindor singled to left and Napoli singled him over to second. On a 1-0 pitch, Lonnie Chisenhall cleared them both with a big three-run blast to right to give the Indians a 4-1 lead.
The Braves countered with a solo shot of their own to lead off the bottom half, as former Chicago White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers took Bauer deep to right on the ninth pitch of a grueling at bat that included four balls fouled off. Atlanta ran ithself out of an opportunity for more in the following inning, when Jace Peterson singled to lead off the inning but was caught stealing. After a strikeout by Inciarte, Freeman doubled to center.
Cleveland padded their two-run lead with scores in each of the final three innings.
Tyler Naquin doubled to center, moved to third on a bunt single from Chris Gimenez, and scored on a single to center by Carlos Santana in the seventh off of Jenkins. In the eighth, Napoli singled to left, picked off second on a pitch in the dirt by reliever Ian Krol, moved to third on the errant throw from Flowers, and would score on a one-out single by Jose Ramirez. He too would score on a deep drive to right by Naquin that was misplayed on a strange route from Markakis that was ruled an RBI-double to give Cleveland a 7-2 lead.
“It’s something that I’m prepared for every time I’m on first base,” said Napoli. “I always think about a ball in the dirt. I know what the guy throws. If he throws a curveball, it’s always on my mind.”
A solo homer from Jason Kipnis with one out in the ninth off of Matt Marksberry made it 8-2.
The Braves got one back in the ninth, but it was much too little too late. Erick Aybar reached on an in-between hop single past third, moved to second on catcher’s indifference, and scored on a double to left by pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski to give the game its final 8-3 line.
The Braves (26-50) have now lost three of four and four of six since a six-game winning streak earlier in the month. They have fallen to 18.5 games behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East.
“It doesn’t matter what happened ten days ago, it has nothing to do with tomorrow,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “What’s important was tonight. We played good enough to win. Now we’ll turn the page and come back and see if we can do it again tomorrow.”
BAUER BIG WITH ANOTHER QUALITY START
Bauer (6-2, 3.19) did not necessarily have his best stuff, but he was given a decent lead and ran with it. He lasted six innings for another quality June start, allowing two runs on five hits with three walks and five strikeouts. He left with 100 pitches thrown, 59 for strikes.
“Deep pitch counts tonight, but again, for the most part he kept them off the scoreboard and allowed our offense to have some time to score,” said Francona. “We kinda just kept fighting and stretching it out, which is a good way to play.”
In his final start of June, he improved to 4-0 in six outings with six quality starts. He struck out 43 batters and walked 12 in the month. He allowed eleven runs (ten earned) over 44 2/3 innings (2.01 ERA) and failed to pitch less than six innings in any start.
GANT EXITS WITH OBLIQUE INJURY
Gant left while facing his second batter in the third inning with what was initially reported as a left oblique strain. He worked two-plus innings, allowing one run on three hits while striking out a pair. In the early going, his unique delivery seemed to be getting the better of the Indians, but as they have done of late, they made their hits count, with two of the three off of him contributing to the early first inning run.
FUN WITH NUMBERS
During the Indians’ ten-game winning streak, they are averaging 6.8 runs per game. They have hit 21 home runs, including ten in the last three games, and are batting .329 with runners in scoring position. The team as a whole is hitting .322 in that stretch with a total of 46 extra base hits.
The starting pitching, meanwhile, has done their part, posting a 2.05 ERA. The ten-game streak marks the 22nd time in franchise history that the Indians have won ten or more consecutive games.
SIX THE MAGIC NUMBER
The Indians have scored at least six runs in each of the last seven games, the first time the club has done so since 2005.
“Obviously we’re getting good pitching and offense is doing their job, too,” said Napoli. “We’re enjoying this. We’re having a good time with this. We know we need to stay on it and keep it going.”
SCORE FIRST, WIN MOST
As has been the trend all year long, when the Indians score first, they have a great tendency of winning the ball game. They have won 19 of their last 20 games when putting the first tally on the scoreboard and improved to 33-7 on the season.
“We’re getting it from everybody, that’s why we’re on the streak we are right now,” said Napoli. “We’re getting contributions from one through nine. We’re not giving away at bats. We’re battling up there, two strikes, two outs, someone on second, we’re battling out there trying to get a hit. It’s the way we need to play the game and continue to play it.”
WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
The extended run of dominance by the Indians starting rotation has been fantastic for the club, but it has left some of the “professional catch players” stranded with little to do. With the rare shorter outing from one of his starters, Francona was able to get some underused arms in his bullpen some much needed work.
“I was kinda stressing about that a little bit,” said Francona, who worked four relievers into the final three frames. “And to be able to do it with a win and all in one night was really good. I thought they handled themselves really well. [Gorzelanny] came in, big part of the game, got the lefties out. Tommy Hunter came in with a real good inning and he had to wait a while, which was hard.
“That was really important, because it was getting to a point that it was starting to kinda eat at me a little bit and I was really pleased we got them in there.”
Naquin was 2-for-4 at the plate on Monday night. His two hits, both doubles, now give him eight straight extra base hits this season.
JOIN THE HIT PARADE
Seven of the nine Indians starters had at least one hit on the night, with the exception of Bauer and Rajai Davis. Six different Cleveland hitters contributed at least one RBI.
“It’s contagious, I believe that,” said Chisenhall about the Indians’ success at the plate. “It’s fun going in the batter’s box when the guy in front of you and the guy behind you is hitting.”
“When you say everybody’s chipping in,” said Francona, “I think that’s when we’re good. That’s when we’re at our best, when we can go one through nine, one through eight tonight. I think we have a chance to be successful that way.”
Corey Kluber (7-7, 3.59) will look to push the Indians’ winning streak to eleven games on Tuesday night as the Indians and Braves play the middle game of the three-game set. Atlanta will send out another right-hander in 23-year-old Matt Wisler (3-7, 4.22), a native of northwestern Ohio in his second Major League season with the Braves.
Photo: AP Photo/John Bazemore