Despite being less than a full week into the final month of the regular season, the Cleveland Indians will play their final games against non-American League Central opponents this week as the Houston Astros come to town for four straight. It will be the first time the two clubs have seen each other since the second week of May, when the clubs split the first two games of the series before Houston won a 5-3 decision in 16 innings on a walk-off homer.
It will be the Indians (79-56) who are celebrating the more recent walk-off hit after their ninth inning heroics on Sunday to complete a series sweep of the Miami Marlins. They have enjoyed every bit of the home cooking that they have received in the last week since coming back to Cleveland for an extended stay. After a road trip that lacked almost any fire power, the bats have come alive and the pitching has steadily improved as the team has won each of its first six games of its ten-game homestand.
The Astros (72-64) still find themselves hanging around in the American League Wild Card chase, but the AL West is quickly slipping away from them. Trailing the team with the AL’s best record, the Texas Rangers (82-55), the Astros are nine and a half in back of their in-state rivals. They are two games behind the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, who are tied at 74-62, for the final Wild Card spot in the league. They dropped two of three in Arlington over the weekend after sweeping Oakland.
PITCHING PROBABLES and NOTES
Monday, 9/5, 7:10 PM ET – RHP Mike Fiers (9-6, 4.31 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Clevinger (2-1, 5.30)
Fiers will check Major League ballpark 28 off of his list of stadiums that he has pitched in when he makes the start on Monday. He has faced the Indians just once in his career, when he limited them to one run on three hits in seven innings in a win earlier this season. The 31-year-old leads the Majors with 15 wild pitches. It will be the highly unconventional bullpen game for the Indians on Monday, who will start Clevinger in place of the day’s originally scheduled and struggling starter, Josh Tomlin. It will be the first career appearance for Clevinger against Houston and his first start since August 13.
Tuesday, 9/6, 7:10 PM ET – LHP Dallas Keuchel (9-12, 4.55) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (15-8, 3.09)
It is a special pitching matchup on the mound on Tuesday from Progressive Field as last year’s Cy Young winner Keuchel will take on the previous winner, Kluber, in a head-to-head battle. Keuchel is 1-0 in his career with a 2.77 ERA in two starts at Progressive Field and 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA in five games (four starts) in his career against the Indians. Kluber is coming off of winning the AL Pitcher of the Month Award after posting a 5-0 record in five starts with a 2.43 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP while striking our 44 and walking 13 in 40 2/3 innings.
Wednesday, 9/7, 7:10 PM ET – RHP Doug Fister (12-10, 3.91) vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco (10-7, 3.06)
The 6’8” Fister has a lengthy track record against Cleveland dating back to his days with the Detroit Tigers. He is 5-3 with a 2.72 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 15 career starts with one complete game. He held the Tribe to two runs on six hits in seven innings in a no-decision earlier this year. It will be career appearance number six and start number five for Carrasco against Houston. He has yet to face the Astros this season, but has a 2-1 record with a 2.05 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in his previous work against them, limiting Houston to a .191 batting average against while averaging 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings and 7.20 strikeouts per walk.
Thursday, 9/8, 12:10 PM ET – RHP Joe Musgrove (2-3, 5.06) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (10-6, 3.70)
Musgrove will make his first professional start against Cleveland in the afternoon matinee on Thursday. The 23-year-old right-hander and a first rounder in the 2011 draft made his debut on August 2, shutting down Toronto with four and one-third innings of one-hit relief while striking out eight. He jumped into the rotation and has been either barely touched on the mound or lit up since. His last start was the latter, when he allowed five runs on eight hits to Texas in four and one-third innings. Houston always seems to bring the best out of Bauer, who will look to defend his perfect 4-0 record in four starts against the Astros in his career. His microscopic 0.67 ERA and 0.89 WHIP will be on the line as he looks to nail down a fifth straight win against the Texas club, who he blanked on three hits for seven innings earlier in the season in a win.
TV (all games) – Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio; ROOTSW
Radio (all games) – Cleveland Indians Radio Network; KBME 790 (Houston)
Michael Brantley (LF) – out for season (May 10) – recovery from right biceps surgery
Collin Cowgill (OF) – outrighted to Triple-A Columbus (September 3)
Kyle Crockett (RP) – recalled from Triple-A Columbus (September 5)
Yan Gomes (C) – 60-day disabled list (July 17) – separated right shoulder; on rehab assignment
Marwin Gonzalez (SS) – day-to-day – right hamstring discomfort
Lance McCullers (SP) – 15-day disabled list (August 3) – mild right elbow sprain
Preston Tucker (OF) – 15-day disabled list (August 12) – right shoulder sprain; on rehab assignment
Luis Valbuena (3B) – out for season (July 27) – recovery from August 2016 hamstring surgery
AL CENTRAL STANDINGS
A WILD MVP APPEARS?
Second baseman Jose Altuve’s strong season across the board offensively has him as a potential MVP candidate in the American League this season. He will bring a .346 average and .409 on-base percentage into the series with the Indians and has 37 doubles, 22 homers, 90 RBI, 95 runs scored, 26 stolen bases, and 185 total hits for the season.
He is first in the Majors in hits and batting average, is second in the AL in OBP, is third in doubles and steals, is tied for fifth in triples, is seventh in slugging, and is eighth in the league in runs scored and RBI.
The Indians will catch him in a rare slump, as he is hitting just .136 (3-for-22) over his last six games played.
SPRINGER AN OFFENSIVE SPRINGBOARD
Right fielder George Springer leads the way for the Astros in homers with 26 on the season. He has driven in 75 runs, third on the club, and is also tops on the team with 77 walks, helping a .256 batting average turn into a .359 OBP. He leads the team with 101 runs scored on the year in 136 games.
NO SOPHOMORE SLUMP FOR CORREA
Carlos Correa’s second season has gone nicely for Houston. He is hitting .274 with a .360 OBP in 132 games with 32 doubles, three triples, 19 homers, and 90 RBI. His run production is tied for the team lead with Altuve.
LINDOR WITH SEVERAL MULTI-HIT GAMES
Indians All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor added two more multi-hit games to his tally this weekend, getting two hits in Friday’s win before going 4-for-4 in the win on Saturday. He was 6-for-13 for the weekend with a pair of walks. He is hitting .355 over the last month with a .375 OBP and has pushed his season batting average to .317, supplying the club with 167 hits, 86 runs, 14 homers, 66 RBI, and 16 stolen bases.
RAMIREZ DOES THE SPLITS
Jose Ramirez has been overlooked all season long nationally for his contributions to the Indians lineup while attempting to provide some of the offense that a healthy Brantley would have brought to the table.
With runners in scoring position this season, he is hitting .365 with 51 RBI. He gets progressively better as the outs in the inning increase – he is hitting .282 with ten RBI with no outs, .297 with 23 RBI with one out, and .362 with 30 RBI with two outs. With the bases loaded, he is 5-for-11 (.455) with 14 runs batted in.
In addition to the offense provided, he has helped generate runs with his speed – his 20 stolen bases equal his career total coming into the year over his first three MLB seasons.
GOMES CONTINUES REHAB ASSIGNMENT
Catcher Gomes continued to progress in his return from a separated right shoulder by appearing in a pair of games for the Akron RubberDucks over the weekend.
He was 2-for-3 on Friday night with a single, a double, two runs scored, and one run driven in while playing as the designated hitter. On Sunday, he struck out twice in three trips to the plate. He was lifted for pinch-hitter Luigi Rodriguez in the bottom of the seventh inning as Akron clinched a playoff berth.
With their ten-game homestand completed, the Indians will hit the road for Minnesota to play three at Target Field before heading to Chicago to play four against the White Sox. Things will not get any easier for Houston, who will return home on Friday to host the Chicago Cubs in three straight interleague games before welcoming in the division rival Rangers for three more on Monday.
Photo: Rick Yeatts/Getty Images