Cleveland claimed a second consecutive American League Central Division crown in the late night hours on Saturday night in anticlimactic fashion as the Minnesota Twins fell to the Toronto Blue Jays. The Tribe was able to celebrate with another win in its first game as the division champs behind seven shutout innings from Corey Kluber, a big blast from Edwin Encarnacion, and a bit of a dicey finish from the normally reliable bullpen.
The Indians (93-57) won another series to improve to 24-1 in their last 25 games. They wrapped up their homestand with a 9-1 record to push their season mark at home to 45-30. With the AL Central title in tow, the Tribe will look to fend off the Houston Astros for the best record in the league.
Cleveland wrapped up the season series with Kansas City with a 12-7 record while outscoring the Royals, 90-52.
Kluber continued his tear through American League hitting with another great start for the Tribe, once again improving his chances to become the first two-time Cy Young winner in Indians history. He started the game with four hitless innings while allowing just one base runner on a hit by pitch of Alex Gordon in the third.
The Indians, meanwhile, had a tough time with KC starter and long-time foe Danny Duffy. After Francisco Lindor nearly started the home half with a solo homer that would be ruled instead a foul ball, the Royals southpaw struck out five over the first three innings and allowed just one base runner through the first third of the game on a two-out error in the third that allowed Giovanny Urshela to reach safely. He would be stranded as Lindor lined out on the next pitch.
The Indians would capitalize on another error in the fourth to take the lead. Austin Jackson reached on a grounder to second, as Whit Merrifield’s throwing error allowed him to take first. Carlos Santana flied out on the next pitch to bring Encarnacion to the plate. After Encarnacion working the count to his favor at 2-1, Duffy made his only true mistake on the afternoon. the Tribe’s big slugger turned the pitch into his 36th home run souvenir of the season, putting the Indians up, 2-0, on their first hit of the day.
Kluber had five Ks under his belt and had struck out at least one batter in each inning heading into the fifth, now working with his first lead of the game. After striking out Cheslor Cuthbert to start the inning, Paulo Orlando singled to left for the first hit of the afternoon off of the Tribe right-hander. Kluber took matters into his own hands from there, striking out Alcides Escobar before getting Gordon to fly to left to strand Orlando.
Duffy (8-9) added two more strikeouts in the fifth in his last inning of work in his first start off of the disabled list. He would exit having allowed a pair of runs (one earned) on just one hit with eight strikeouts on the afternoon.
The Indians threatened against the Royals bullpen in the sixth as Scott Alexander came into the game. He gave up a one-out single to Jackson and a walk to Santana before getting Encarnacion to fly to right and inducing a grounder to first from Jay Bruce.
The Royals gave Kluber a scare in the seventh as they would load the bases with their first real threat of the game. Eric Hosmer singled before a strikeout by Brandon Moss. Cuthbert singled before a strikeout by Orlando. With two on and the tying run coming to the plate, Kluber got Escobar to ground weakly between the mound and the foul line. Kluber fielded but his throw pulled Santana off of the bag at first. His third career error loaded the bases for Gordon, who grounded back to Kluber for a more routine play to end the inning.
The Indians would take advantage of the missed opportunity by the Royals to expand their lead. With one out, reliever Peter Moylan plunked Greg Allen in the knee. A single to deep left by Roberto Perez put runners on the corners for Urshela, who grounded slowly enough to short to beat out the back end of the would-be double play, allowing Allen to score with what would prove to be a significant run in the ball game.
After a tight-rope act in the seventh, Kluber turned the game over to the bullpen and Bryan Shaw. Jorge Bonifacio pinch-hit and was cut down swinging for the first out. Merrifield singled to right and Melky Cabrera reached on an infield single to put two on. Tyler Olson entered and got a comebacker from Hosmer for the second out, but Moss drove a 2-2 pitch into center to score two runs to cut the Cleveland lead to 3-2 on the first two inherited runners to score off of the Indians left-hander this season. Cody Allen was summoned in a four-out save situation and struck out Mike Moustakas swinging to end the frame.
Allen returned for the top of the ninth and got the first out before a walk by Escobar and a single to left by Gordon put the tying and go-ahead runs on the bases. The Tribe’s closer earned his fireman title by striking out Drew Butera and Merrifield swinging to earn his 28th save of the season.
The Royals (73-76) lost another important game in what could be the last playoff push for the club for the next few seasons as they stare down the losses of several key free agents in the coming offseason.
Kluber (17-4) became the first 17-game winner in the American League this season and just the fourth in baseball (Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Zach Davies). He fired seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits while striking out nine. He needed 99 pitches to complete seven, throwing 76 for strikes, 19 for first pitch strikes, and 22 for swinging strikes on the day. He has not allowed a run in 22 straight innings. Despite missing a month of the regular season schedule, Kluber leads the league in several key pitching stats, including wins (17), ERA (2.35), complete games (3), and shutouts (5).
The Indians offense mustered just three hits on the day, but made their scoring opportunities count. Jackson and Perez each had singles and Encarnacion contributed with his big home run to give him 94 RBI on the season. The Indians stranded five base runners and went just 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position. The Royals, by comparison, stranded eight and were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Lindor’s overturned home run in the first was his best shot at extending his extra base hitting streak. His mark ended at ten straight games, a club record.
Cleveland will take Monday off as a travel day as the team recovers from its likely Sunday celebration of all of its accomplishments thus far in its AL pennant defense. The team will next take the field on Tuesday from California, where right-hander Mike Clevinger (10-5, 3.21 ERA) will take the mound against the team that drafted him, the Angels, while looking to extend his winning streak to five straight. Left-hander Tyler Skaggs (2-5, 4.37) is listed as Los Angeles’ probable starter for game one of the series. In another injury-shortened campaign, he will make his 14th start after missing all of May, June, and July. He earned his first win of the season since April 22 in his last start, throwing seven shutout innings of three-hit ball against the Houston Astros on Wednesday.
Game time from Anaheim is scheduled for 10:07 PM ET on Tuesday.
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