With a magic number of seven heading into this week’s final stretch of home games at Progressive Field, it is possible that the Indians could bring the American League Central Division crown back to Cleveland before departing for their final road trip through Detroit and Kansas City next week.
The Tribe (86-63) will need some help to achieve those goals, but the Royals (77-73) will not be doing Cleveland any favors, whether it be in this three-game set or in their three-game series in Missouri to close out the 2016 regular season schedule. To the benefit of a possible clincher at home, the Indians have been strong at Progressive Field all season, posting a 49-26 record while winning or tying their last seven home series. Despite only one more game played at home than on the road this year, the Indians have scored 131 more runs at their friendly confines.
The Royals have been a roller coaster ride of sorts this season. After a 12-11 April, they put together a 17-11 May to climb back into first place. A disappointing 13-14 month of June was compounded by a disastrous 7-19 July that included three separate four-game losing streaks. August was much improved, with a nine-game winning streak in the middle of a 20-9 month, but the damage may have been too much to overcome as the team has pushed through September stuck in the third spot in the division with an 8-9 record.
PITCHING PROBABLES and NOTES
Tuesday, 9/20, 7:10 PM ET – RHP Edinson Volquez (10-11, 5.40 ERA) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (12-8, 4.75)
Volquez has had no luck at Progressive Field this season, boasting an 0-2 record in two starts with an 8.44 ERA and 2.06 WHIP. He had a little more luck at home, earning a win in two starts in Kansas City against Cleveland and is 3-6 in eleven career outings against them with a 6.38 ERA. Volquez coughed up nine runs in his last outing on Thursday against Oakland and has allowed at least four runs in nine of his last ten starts. He has not won since August 25. The more successful Tomlin from earlier in the season was 2-0 against the Royals in three starts with a 2.79 ERA and 1.14 WHIP and has an 8-4 lifetime mark in 19 games against KC. The 31-year-old ended a personal five-game losing streak his last time out when he made his first start in two weeks, allowing a run on four hits in five innings against Minnesota.
Wednesday, 9/21, 7:10 PM ET – RHP Ian Kennedy (11-9, 3.60) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (17-9, 3.12)
Kennedy has given the Royals a quality effort in seven of his last ten starts, including a two-run performance in six innings in a no-decision against Chicago on Friday. In his last ten starts dating back to July 30, he is 5-0 with a 2.14 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. Kluber’s last start on Friday did not come quite as easy as others of late, as he gave up two home run balls in a victory over Detroit while giving up four runs on five hits with three walks. It marked just the second time in his last 13 starts that he failed to earn a quality start. In that span, he is 9-1 with a 2.28 ERA and 1.04 WHIP.
Thursday, 9/22, 7:10 PM ET – LHP Jason Vargas (0-0, 3.00) vs. RHP Mike Clevinger (2-2, 4.76)
Vargas made his return from Tommy John surgery and a lengthy stay on the 60-day disabled list on September 17, when he worked three innings and allowed one run on two hits with a walk and a strikeout against the White Sox. The 33-year-old southpaw is 2-0 in five career starts in Cleveland and was a perfect 3-0 against them in three starts last season with a 3.18 ERA and 1.18 WHIP prior to his injury. Clevinger will make his first career appearance against the Royals while making his fourth start back working in the starting rotation. He has worked four innings in each of his last two outings, allowing a combined two runs on five hits with three walks and eight strikeouts in those appearances. Both runs scored on solo home runs.
TV (all games) – Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio; Fox Sports Kansas City
Radio (all games) – Cleveland Indians Radio Network; KCSP 610, Royals Radio Network
Michael Brantley (LF) – 60-day disabled list (May 10) – recovery from right biceps surgery; out for season
Carlos Carrasco (SP) – out for season (September 17) – fractured fifth metacarpal
Yan Gomes (C) – 60-day disabled list (July 17) – separated right shoulder; broken right wrist
T.J. House (RP) – designated for assignment (September 20)
Adam Plutko (P) – contract purchased from Triple-A Columbus (September 20)
Danny Salazar (SP) – out for season (September 12) – mild strain in right flexor musculature
Lorenzo Cain (OF) – out indefinitely – left hand sprain
Tim Collins (RP) – 60-day disabled list (April 3) – recovery from April 2016 Tommy John surgery
Luke Hochevar (RP) – out for season – thoracic outlet syndrome
Kris Medlen (RP) – 60-day disabled list (May 11) – right shoulder strain
Mike Minor (P) – 60-day disabled list (March 15) – recovery from May 2015 left labrum surgery
Mike Moustakas (3B) – out for season – recovery from June 2016 right knee surgery
Chien-Ming Wang (RP) – designated for assignment (September 19)
AL CENTRAL STANDINGS
The Indians won six of the first seven games of the season series against the Royals before Kansas City found some better results on the field, winning four straight. Cleveland then claimed each of the last two games of the series back in the middle of July, with Salazar and Carrasco pulling wins.
The Tribe has outscored the Royals 65-46 while going 8-5 against them this season.
Catcher Salvador Perez has left his mark on Indians pitching with a .275 batting average and two homers and leads the club with four doubles and seven RBI. He has not drawn a walk and has struck out 14 times on the year against the Tribe.
Perez has seen his numbers plummet since the All-Star break, hitting just .194 with a .241 on-base percentage, nine doubles, six homers, and 18 RBI. For the season, he has hit .247 with a .288 OBP, 26 doubles, 20 homers, and 59 RBI while drawing just 20 walks against 111 strikeouts in 130 games.
GOTTA HOLD DOWN HOSMER
Eric Hosmer is the Royals’ leader in runs batted in this season, but he had a little success against the Indians in 13 games this season, hitting .273 with a .373 OBP, two doubles, a homer, and five runs batted in.
Hosmer has struggled some in the second half, hitting .234 with a .308 OBP, but has supplied the Royals with ten homers and a team-high 48 RBI in that span. For the year, he has hit .272 with a .335 OBP, 24 doubles, 23 homers, and a team-high 97 RBI.
FEASTING ON THE ROYALS
Francisco Lindor has had success against most teams this season and the Royals are no exception. He is the team leader with a .408 average and 20 hits against the Royals in 13 games this season with three doubles, a triple, four home runs, and ten RBI. He has also been the Indians’ most productive hitter at Progressive Field this season, hitting .361 with a .410 OBP, 23 doubles, two triples, six homers, and 46 RBI, the second most runs batted in on the club while in Cleveland.
Tyler Naquin is nipping at his heels for production against Kansas City and in some facets, exceeds his numbers. He has hit .379 with a .486 OBP, two doubles, five homers, and eleven RBI. He is hitting .343 at home with nine doubles, a triple, nine homers, and 23 RBI in 53 games.
PARTY TIME AT PROGRESSIVE FIELD
The Party at Napoli’s has taken place at Progressive Field all season long and, judging by the numbers, Indians first baseman and slugger Mike Napoli has been a gracious host to his Cleveland teammates.
Napoli is second in the American League in home runs hit at home this season with 22, trailing only Mark Trumbo of the Baltimore Orioles, who has 23. His 69 RBI are tied with Boston’s Hanley Ramirez for the second-most in the league, trailing only Red Sox DH David Ortiz, who leads both by just one RBI.
In 73 home contests this season, Napoli has slashed .294/.407/.603.
The mad dash to the finish line of the 2016 season continues with the Indians’ last home series of the season against the Chicago White Sox over the weekend. The Royals will play out the string as they head to Detroit to take on the Tigers in three straight, looking again to be spoilers to their AL Central rivals.
Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images