The weather in northeast Ohio has already begun to turn some. Leaves are falling, the temperatures have cooled, and rains have steadily taken over the region. Fall is here and so too is the end of the 2016 Major League Baseball regular season.
The Cleveland Indians (91-67) head to Kansas City this weekend to play the final three games of the season. There may be one more to play on Monday, pending where Cleveland stands in the hunt for home field advantage and where the Detroit Tigers are in the AL Wild Card mix after the completion of Sunday’s games. Weather interrupted their series in Detroit during the week, as Thursday’s game was postponed and Wednesday’s game was called due to rain after five innings. It did not prevent the club from clinching its first AL Central Division title since 2007 on Monday night. The Indians are 11-5 against the Royals this season, outscoring one of their biggest divisional rivals, 76-52, this season.
The Royals (81-78) saw their postseason hopes and their championship defense thwarted after a three-game sweep in Cleveland when the two clubs last met earlier in the month. Decimated by injuries throughout the season, the Royals have had a roller coaster ride of a year and now play out the string playing for pride and to maybe disrupt the Indians’ ability to make it through the playoffs on an easier schedule. After being swept by Cleveland, they rattled off four straight wins before losing to Minnesota on Thursday.
PITCHING PROBABLES and NOTES
Friday, 9/30, 8:15 PM ET – LHP Ryan Merritt (0-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. RHP Yordano Ventura (11-11, 4.40)
Merritt will try again to make his first Major League start and fourth appearance overall. He was pushed into the rotation for Thursday’s game in Detroit, but Mother Nature had other plans for the game between the Indians and Tigers. He has worked almost exclusively as a starter in the minor leagues, but each of his first three MLB outings have come in relief. Ventura will make his third start of the year against Cleveland this weekend. He is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA and 2.00 WHIP in ten innings of work with seven walks allowed and six strikeouts. He matched a season-high ten hits allowed in his last start, a no-decision against Detroit on September 24.
Saturday, 10/1, 4:15 PM ET – RHP Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26) vs. RHP Edinson Volquez (10-11, 5.37)
Saturday will be Bauer’s first appearance against the Royals this season. He has made six career starts against Kansas City, posting a 1-2 record with a 3.41 ERA and 1.38 WHIP over 37 innings. Last season, he was 1-1 with a 2.91 ERA in three starts, including one complete game. Volquez will make start number six against the Tribe this season. He is 1-2 with a 3.73 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in those first five games and has struggled with the free pass, issuing 18 walks in 31 1/3 innings of work.
Sunday, 10/2, 3:15 PM ET – RHP Josh Tomlin (12-9, 4.48) vs. LHP Ian Kennedy (11-10, 3.69)
Tomlin will make his fifth start of the season against the Royals on Sunday and will look to add a third win against them to his stat sheet. He is 2-0 with a 2.42 ERA and 1.04 WHIP against them this season with 15 strikeouts and just one walk in 26 innings of work. He is 8-4 in 20 career games against them. Kennedy will make his sixth start against Cleveland this year after making just two other starts against them over the course of his ten-year career. He is 2-3 this season, but has a lofty 5.76 ERA and 1.38 WHIP. He has given up eight home runs in 29 2/3 innings to Indians hitters this season.
TV (all games) – Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio; Fox Sports Kansas City
Radio (all games) – Cleveland Indians Radio Network; KCSP 610 (KC); Royals Radio Network
Michael Brantley (LF) – out for season – recovery from right biceps surgery; out for season
Carlos Carrasco (SP) – transferred to 60-day disabled list (September 30) – fractured fifth metacarpal
Yan Gomes (C) – activated from 60-day disabled list (September 30); not cleared to hit
Corey Kluber (SP) – day-to-day – right quad strain
Danny Salazar (SP) – day-to-day – mild strain in right flexor musculature
Lorenzo Cain (CF) – out for season – left hand sprain
Tim Collins (RP) – 60-day disabled list – recovery from April 2016 Tommy John surgery
Dillon Gee (P) – out for season – blood clots in lung, shoulder
Luke Hochevar (RP) – out for season – thoracic outlet syndrome
Kris Medlen (P) – 60-day disabled list – right shoulder strain
Mike Minor (P) – 60-day disabled list – recovery from May 2015 left shoulder surgery
Mike Moustakas (3B) – 60-day disabled list – recovery from June 2016 right knee surgery
AMERICAN LEAGUE PLAYOFF PICTURE
CUTHBERT CRUSHING CLEVELAND
With some bigger names in the lineup around him, it may surprise some that Cheslor Cuthbert has been one of the Royals’ best hitters against the Indians this season. In 15 games, he has hit .386 with a .472 on-base percentage and .523 slugging mark with three doubles, a homer, and five RBI.
In his first full season in the Majors, the third baseman has played in 125 games, hitting .276 with a .319 OBP and .410 slugging.
HOSMER HAVING A TOUGH TIME WITH TRIBE
All-Star first baseman Eric Hosmer has hit just .232 with a .317 OBP and .321 slugging percentage against the Indians this season. In his 16 games, he has scored a team-leading ten runs, but has been contained in the power department. Of his 13 hits against Cleveland, ten have been singles and just one has left the yard.
He has appeared in 157 games this season, setting new career highs for homers (25) and RBI (103) while hitting .266.
PEREZ BEING AGGRESSIVE
Salvador Perez has had a steady season against Indians pitching. In 14 games, he has 15 hits, including nine of the extra base variety. He leads the club with six doubles and three homers against Cleveland and is tops on the team with nine RBI.
He has also displayed some impressive aggressiveness at the plate. In his 52 plate appearances against the Indians this season, he has struck out 18 times and drawn no walks.
ROUGHING UP THE ROYALS
Four regulars in the Indians lineup are hitting over .300 against Royals pitching this season.
Tyler Naquin leads the way with a .364 average and .500 on-base percentage in eleven starts. He has two of his doubles and five of his homers this season against the Royals and is tied for second on the club with eleven RBI against them.
Francisco Lindor, who has slumped of late, has hit .345 with a .403 OBP against Kansas City in 2016. In his 16 games, he leads the club with 14 runs, 20 hits, and has three doubles, a triple, four homers, and ten RBI against them.
Jason Kipnis has appeared in all 16 games as a starter and has hit .311 with a .364 OBP. He is tied for second on the club with ten runs against KC and is second with 19 hits (including six doubles, a triple, and three homers).
And, of course, Jose Ramirez has hit the Royals like he has hit everyone else in 2016 (.311 average and .404 OBP in 15 games, 13 starts). He leads the club with seven doubles.
A pair of Indians are up for consideration for the Major League Baseball Players Association’s MLB Players Choice Awards.
Kluber is up for consideration for the American League’s Outstanding Pitcher. Boston starting pitcher Rick Porcello and Baltimore closer Zach Britton are the other two finalists for the honor. Outfielder Naquin is one of three rookies up for the AL Outstanding Rookie award. He is opposed by a name linked to him all season long, Detroit pitcher Michael Fulmer, and rapidly rising star catcher from New York, Gary Sanchez.
Winners will be announced on Wednesday, November 9, 2016, starting at 8 PM on MLB Network.
The Esurance MLB Awards were also announced no Friday and include Kluber among five pitchers for “Best Pitcher”, Naquin for “Best Rookie”, and shortstop Lindor for “Best Defensive Player”.
SALAZAR INCHING CLOSER TO RETURN
The Indians may just have another available arm to consider for the postseason roster as Salazar once again threw off of a mound on Friday. While the session was not as long or intense as others this week, it was another step in the right direction for the Indians’ number three starter, who will not be utilized in that role if on a playoff roster.
The rest of the weekend will decide how the next week lays out for the Indians, while the Royals will go home. If the situation in the AL playoff picture dictates, the Indians will head to Detroit for a one-game season finale against the Tigers to resolve outstanding postseason issues. If the game has no bearing on the playoffs, the Indians will be idle until Thursday, when the first game of the American League Division Series will take place against a team yet to be determined at a location yet to be decided.
Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images