With a little bit of rain interference, Cleveland’s chances of avoiding its first losing series in two weeks was spoiled as rain parked itself over the Great Lakes region for much of the day on Thursday. It made for a good reason to relocate as the Indians packed up and headed to Missouri to take on a scuffling Kansas City Royals squad in three games this weekend.
The Indians (15-12) enter the weekend leading the American League Central Division once again, tied with the 15-12 Chicago White Sox. The crowding at the top of the division is evident as just one game separates the Tribe from fourth place Detroit (14-13) after the club dropped two of three to start their three-city road trip to kick off May.
For the Royals (9-18), the year has not started at all as expected and they are very much in danger of falling out of the race quickly. Looking up from the cellar of the AL Central, the Royals find themselves six games in back of the first place Indians and Sox already and have struggled to generate offense, scoring just 2.89 runs per game (by comparison, the Indians have scored 45 more runs than the Royals in the same amount of games for a 4.56 runs per game average). The pitching staff has allowed 116 runs for a -38 run differential for a team just two seasons removed from back-to-back World Series appearances.
PITCHING PROBABLES and NOTES
Friday, 5/5, 8:15 PM ET – RHP Danny Salazar (2-2, 4.34 ERA) vs. RHP Jason Hammel (0-3, 6.65)
The 27-year-old Salazar will look to pick up where he left off against the Royals last season. He made three starts against them and won all three, posting a 1.21 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP in the process with 25 strikeouts and seven walks in 22 1/3 innings of work. He is 3-3 in his career at Kauffman Stadium and 7-5 lifetime against the Royals in a dozen starts. Hammel has had no luck against the Indians in his career. He has faced off with them nine times, including five times as the starter, and has earned an 0-3 record with a 5.30 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP dating back to 2006.
Saturday, 5/6, 4:15 PM ET – RHP Josh Tomlin (2-3, 8.87) vs. LHP Jason Vargas (4-1, 1.42)
The 32-year-old Tomlin has had a bit of success against the Royals in 21 career appearances, posting a 9-4 record with a 4.33 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. He faced them five times last year and earned a perfect 3-0 record with a 2.43 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP with 18 strikeouts and just one walk in 33 1/3 innings of work. He has earned wins in five of the six seasons that he has faced the Royals so far in his career. The left-handed Vargas will hope to extend Cleveland’s tough time with southpaws this season, as the Indians are just 4-8 against lefties this year. He owns a 6-3 mark against the Tribe in 13 career starts with a 4.68 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. He faced them once late last season, allowing two runs in four innings in a no-decision. The previous season, he won all three of his starts against the Indians.
Sunday, 5/7, 2:15 PM ET – TBD vs. TBD
Neither team has formally announced a starter for Sunday’s series finale. For the Indians, it would be Trevor Bauer’s (2-3, 7.67) turn in the rotation, but the club could bump him back to recall right-hander Mike Clevinger from Triple-A to start on normal rest, as was believed to be the plan when Corey Kluber was placed on the disabled list. If Bauer goes against Kansas City, it will be his eighth career start against the Royals. He faced them just once last season, but despite the no-decision, he made a quality start with nine strikeouts. He logged one of his two career complete games against them in 2015.
TV (all games) – Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio; Fox Sports Kansas City; MLB Network (5/5 – out-of-market only)
Radio (all games) – Cleveland Indians Radio Network; KCSP 610 (Kansas City)
Cody Anderson (SP) – 60-day disabled list (4/2) – right elbow surgery
Austin Jackson (OF) – 10-day disabled list (5/2) – left great toe hyperextension
Corey Kluber (SP) – 10-day disabled list (5/3) – lower back strain
Miguel Almonte (P) – recalled from Triple-A Northwest Arkansas (5/5)
Hunter Dozier (3B) – 60-day disabled list (4/2) – strained left oblique
Brian Flynn (RP) – 60-day disabled list (2/15) – stable lumbar vertebral fracture
Ian Kennedy (SP) – 10-day disabled list (5/5) – right hamstring strain
Jorge Soler (OF) – 10-day disabled list (3/30) – strained left oblique
The Indians and Royals have a shorter history together than any of the rest of the American League Central teams due to Kansas City’s late arrival on the AL landscape and their significant time as a member of the AL West before realignment. In 667 games all-time, the Indians hold a 346-321 edge in the series and have outscored the Royals 3,122-2,861. Kansas City holds a 14-game lead at home against Cleveland with a 172-158 record.
Last season, the Indians dominated the Central Division and the Royals were frequently their victim. They posted a 14-5 record against their division rival and won each of the last eight matchups. While they were 9-1 at Progressive Field, they were just 5-4 at Kauffman Stadium, but they have an active five-game winning streak in Kansas City heading into this weekend.
ANY ROOM ON THE BENCH FOR ME?
The Indians are currently utilizing a nine-man bullpen after calling up Joe Colon to replace Kluber on the roster. Even before his addition, the Cleveland bullpen was one of the best in baseball in the early going with a 3-0 record, an MLB-leading 1.91 ERA, and a 1.15 WHIP. Opposing hitters have batted .212 against them with 29 walks. The staff has combined to strike out 96 batters in just 80 innings of work and has allowed just two home runs, the fewest in MLB. Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw combined to save eight games in eight opportunities as the Indians are the only team in the Majors without a blown save.
Regarding Allen, he took home a nice honor earlier this week when he was named the American League Reliever of the Month by Major League Baseball. Often underappreciated and overlooked now in the bullpen by the presence of Andrew Miller, Allen was a perfect 6-for-6 in save opportunities in the month. April has historically been an issue for the right-hander, but this year was much different as he compiled a 0.90 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP with 20 strikeouts against 40 batters in ten innings of work. He allowed just one earned run in the month and walked a lone batter in his impressive efforts.
IT’S ALWAYS MILLER TIME
Miller was good in his own right, statistically speaking, as he did not allow a run in 11 2/3 innings in April. He appeared in ten games, struck out 16 batters, and held the opposition to a .167 average. He did issue four walks, which was uncharacteristic of him.
DON’T OVERLOOK ABE
Abraham Almonte’s presence on the club gives manager Terry Francona plenty of roster flexibility, as the versatile switch-hitting outfielder with some speed can fill a variety of roles. It makes it all the easier to utilize him when he is performing well at the plate and he has done exactly that over the last week, getting six hits in 18 at bats over six games with a triple and two runs batted in to lead all Indians players to appear in at least half of the games in the last seven days.
THE GOOD(Y) LIFE
The Indians announced on Friday that they have completed their December 20 trade for right-handed reliever Nick Goody, who has been solid since being recalled from Triple-A Columbus in April. Right-hander Yoiber Marquina, who has spent parts of the last three years in the Indians farm system, will be the player to be named later in the four-month old transaction. The 21-year-old, who began this season on the 7-day disabled list, worked in 28 games in relief for the Class-A Lake County Captains last year, posting a 1-1 record with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP in 31 1/3 innings with seven saves in ten opportunities.
HOSMER HEATING UP
Eric Hosmer’s overall numbers might be lacking some of his usual potency, but you cannot look past the Royals first baseman who has some pop.
Entering the weekend series with Cleveland, he is hitting .252 with a double, a triple, two homers, and ten RBI through 27 games. But in his last six, he is hitting .381 with eight hits, a homer, and half of his season RBI production.
Against Salazar, he has racked up nine hits in 27 at bats, including four doubles, two homers, and six RBI. He has hit just .161 against Tomlin in his career, but has a pair of homers and four RBI.
BY THE NUMBERS
Mike Moustakas has flourished against Tomlin, going 7-for-17 with three doubles, two homers, and six RBI. He leads the Royals in hitting coming into the series with a .268 average on the year with seven homers and 12 RBI. The homer total is also tops on the club, while his run production is second to Salvador Perez’s 15.
Perez has 16 hits in 29 at bats (.552) against Tomlin with eight doubles, a homer, and six RBI. He leads the club with 15 RBI this season, but is hitting just .240.
Alex Gordon would probably prefer to skip Salazar on Friday night. In 32 career plate appearances against him, he has struck out 17 times. His five hits have all been singles and he has driven in a pair of runs off of him.
Edwin Encarnacion has hit .389 against Hammel in his career with a double, three homers, and four RBI. The rest of the Indians roster has combined to go 4-for-23 against him with a double and a home run. He also has a pair of homers and five RBI against Vargas in his career.
Yan Gomes has seen the ball well against the left-hander Vargas in his career, hitting four singles, a homer, and driving in three runs against him in 13 plate appearances.
Jason Kipnis is 8-for-23 against Vargas in his career with two doubles, a homer, and five RBI.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
With another road city visited, the Indians will head north of the border to take on the Toronto Blue Jays for three straight before an off day on Thursday. The Royals will take a trip to Tampa for four games with the Rays beginning Monday before returning home for an AL East battle with the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles.
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images