The Indians wrapped up their incredible month of June with another dominant starting pitching performance as Carlos Carrasco made good use of a few runs of support to wrap up Cleveland’s 13th straight win with a 4-1 victory over the Blue Jays in Toronto on Thursday night.
Cleveland (48-30) has now matched the longest winning streak in franchise history with 13 straight, previously done twice (1942, 1951). It is the longest streak in Major League Baseball since the Oakland Athletics rattled off 20 straight in 2002.
The Indians are 7-0 to start their ten-game road trip and have outscored the opposition, 80-26, during their 13-game winning streak.
The Indians struck first in the second inning after wasting back-to-back singles to lead off the game. On the first pitch of the frame against Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Rajai Davis took his former team deep to left off the facing of the second deck to give the Indians a 1-0 lead.
The aggressive Indians lineup got a second run in the third as Jason Kipnis got his second hit in as many at bats – a first pitch homer to right center – to give Cleveland a two-run cushion.
Carrasco faced the minimum through the first three and two-thirds innings (getting a first inning double play ball to erase a one-out single by Devon Travis) and struck out four straight batters in the third and fourth before Josh Donaldson delivered the game’s third first-pitch homer with a monstrous two-out clout to center to cut the Toronto deficit in half at 2-1. After walking the next batter, Edwin Encarnacion, Carrasco struck out the final batter of the fourth and each of the first two in the fifth.
Mr. Runners in Scoring Position tacked on run number three in the sixth after a Mike Napoli double to left to lead off the inning. Jose Ramirez singled to center past Dickey’s glove, driving in yet another run with a teammate in scoring position. He is now hitting .404 with 26 runs batted in when in that situation.
Things could have gotten interesting for Carrasco with one down in the sixth, but instead of things going sideways, he violently slammed the door on the Jays. With one down, Ezequiel Carrera drew a walk. Carrasco struck out Travis for the second out, but Carrera moved into scoring position on a wild pitch with Donaldson at the plate. After he fouled off a pitch, Donaldson was frozen on a pitch low and in to strand a big run at second.
Carrasco followed up his big strikeouts by striking out the side in the seventh and punching out the first batter in the eighth to give him six consecutive strikeouts. He exited after a one-out ground rule double by Darwin Barney, but Bryan Shaw sandwiched a walk with a pair of strikeouts to end the frame.
Cleveland added another in the ninth on back-to-back extra base hits to pad the lead at 4-1. Cody Allen worked an easy ninth against the heart of the Blue Jays order, striking out Donaldson before getting two straight outs hit at Francisco Lindor to end it.
It was the 17th save in 19 chances for Allen this season. The Blue Jays (43-38) are now just 19-18 at home this year.
“We’ve said all along, from spring training, that we wanted to rely on our pitching,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “They’re really done a great job. Turn the page, as soon as we get done talking to you guys, and see what we can do tomorrow because Stroman’s pretty good. But it’s fun to see the improvements.”
NO JUNE SWOON FOR CLEVELAND
The Indians’ June was the club’s best winning percentage in a month (minimum 20 games) since 1954 and their third-best all-time. Cleveland finished the month with a .786 winning percentage, trailing only the August 1954 Indians (26-6; .813) and the September 1952 Indians (19-5; .792).
Carrasco (4-2, 2.56 ERA) brought back visions of some of his most dominant outings over the last couple of seasons while pitching into the eighth inning. He allowed just one run on three hits, with the last one coming to his final batter – an opposite way ground rule double into the seats in foul territory. He struck out an Indians season-high 14 batters and walked just two on the night, looking very much like the Cy Young caliber starter he was expected to be when the year began.
“Carrasco, I mean he went out there and found the strike zone and he was almost unhittable,” said Davis. “Donaldson had that one hit. He pretty much did most of the work for us today.”
Ten of his 14 strikeouts came via changeup.
“Real good two-seam fastball,” said Francona about Carrasco’s effort. “He threw Donaldson a slider that we can probably pick it up on the way home. Other than that, he pitched his heart out. That’s a good lineup and he really pitched well.”
In his last four starts this season, Carrasco is 2-1 with a 1.52 ERA. He has struck out 35 batters and walked eight during that span. He fell just one strikeout short of matching his career high of 15, set last September against the Kansas City Royals.
“He’s got some starts under him and he’s got some repetition,” said Francona. “It’s kinda nice because he doesn’t have the wear and tear of maybe some of the other guys. He looked really fresh, but he also has enough repetition where he can make his pitches, which is really nice.”
The game took place exactly 365 days after his near no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 1, 2015 (don’t forget the leap day).
During the Indians’ 13-game winning streak, the starting rotation has allowed three runs or less in all 13 contests. It is the longest streak since the New York Giants had 18 straight such outings during a 26-game winning streak in 1916.
DICKEY DOES HIS PART
Dickey (5-9, 4.21) held the Indians in check for the most part, limiting their high scoring offense of late to just three runs over seven innings. He allowed eight hits (including the two solo home runs), walked one, and struck out four.
His struggles at home continued with the loss, as he is now 0-6 this season in eight home games with a 5.14 ERA.
PICKING UP INSURANCE
The Indians got a big bonus run in the ninth inning with one out as the Tribe hustled their way to a run. Davis doubled on a bloop into shallow right near the line. Naquin then got a ball past a diving Carrera in right. It rolled to the wall to give Cleveland a needed insurance run.
“We wanted to scratch out at least one to put less pressure on our bullpen, our closer,” said Davis. “It’s nice when that hit falls in.”
It was the fifth triple of the season for Naquin, which leads the club.
KIPNIS EXTENDS STREAK TO MLB-HIGH 12
Kipnis extended his hitting streak to 12 straight games with a first inning single, which is tied for the longest active streak in the Majors. For just the second time during that stretch, he contributed a multi-hit game, but the hit was huge as his solo home run gave the Indians a 2-0 lead at the time.
The home run from Kipnis was his eleventh of the season.
Prior to the game, the Blue Jays activated reliever Brett Cecil from the 15-day disabled list. He appeared in the game in the eighth inning and looked to have zero rust about him. Pitcher Ryan Tepera was optioned to make room on the 25-man roster for Cecil.
The Indians will look to establish a new franchise record on Friday afternoon as the Tribe and Jays match up in a holiday 1:07 PM ET start from Rogers Centre.
Cleveland will send right-hander Josh Tomlin (9-1, 3.32) to the mound to make his first start against the Blue Jays since 2011, while Toronto will counter with Marcus Stroman (6-4, 5.33), who will be making his first MLB start and second appearance overall against the Indians in his career.
Photo: Eduardo Lima/The Canadian Press via AP
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To think the Cardinals passed Francona over for Mike Matheny!!! Bet they wish they had signed Terry now.