The Indians and Royals will kick off their first of two September series with a three-game set from Progressive Field this week.
The Indians (77-59) dropped two of three in a tough series against the scrappy and young Tampa Bay Rays over the weekend in closely contested games. It marked the Tribe’s first home series loss since July 23-25 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Indians have been one of the better hitting teams in the second half of the season, ranking second in the AL with a .263 batting average and third in on-base percentage at .334 in that span. Cleveland was the only team in August to not record a triple, but the lineup tallied the fewest number of strikeouts of all 30 teams in those 31 days.
The Royals (45-91) are coming off of a sweep of the team that was challenging them for the worst record in the American League this season, the Baltimore Orioles (40-97). They come into the series in Cleveland as hot as they have been all season long, riding a season-best five-game winning streak after two prior wins over Detroit in a two-game sweep. The Royals have won three straight series, including taking two of three from the Indians from August 24-26 (when both clubs scored 17 runs in the series, but the Royals were aided in the opener by back-to-back ninth inning homers off of Cody Allen for a walk-off victory).
PITCHING PROBABLES and NOTES
Junis ended an eight-game losing streak at the beginning of August and went 2-1 overall in the month in three home starts and three road appearances. He made a pair of quality starts in August, including his best start of the season his last time out against Detroit, when he threw his first career complete game and allowed just two runs on six hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in his longest start since April 20 (also against the Tigers). He has faced the Indians twice this season and taken home defeats each time, allowing 13 runs (12 earned) on 14 hits in 11 innings. He is 0-2 in his career against the Indians in four games (three starts) with an 8.05 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP.
Plutko, 26, took a no-decision in his third start back in the rotation for the Indians after his most recent recall from Triple-A Columbus. He worked five and one-third innings against the Minnesota Twins, allowing two earned runs on five hits with two walks and five strikeouts. He had previously lost his first two games upon his return, working a quality start in a loss against Baltimore on August 18 before allowing five runs in four and one-third innings to Boston on August 23. The Royals are the only AL Central club that Plutko has not faced this season.
Duffy, the 29-year-old southpaw, got back into the win column for the first time since July 31 in his last start on August 29, when he worked six innings of one-run, two-hit baseball against the Detroit Tigers. He has a long history against the Indians and not a very successful one, as he is just 2-9 in his career in 18 games (14 starts) against them dating back to 2011. This season, he has faced the Tribe three times and lost three times, allowing 18 runs on 19 hits with ten walks and three homers in 15 innings of work. He has not earned a win against Cleveland since 2014.
Clevinger, the third-year big leaguer, is having another strong campaign in the back of the Tribe’s rotation. He won his third straight decision his last time out, working a quality start against Minnesota. On August 30, he allowed two unearned runs with nine strikeouts in six and two-thirds innings to conclude his six starts in August with a 3-0 record and a 2.21 ERA. He has pitched excellence against the Royals in his career, boasting a 4-0 record in eight games (seven starts) in the last three years with a 2.49 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. He is 1-0 against them this season in three starts with a 2.57 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP.
The rookie Keller, 23, pitched well against the Tribe during the clubs’ last series against one another. In his August 24 start against Cleveland, he allowed just two runs on six hits in five innings. He is 4-1 over his last seven starts with a 3.35 ERA and has pitched well overall since moving into a starting role for the club after spending the first two months of the season in the bullpen. As a reliever, he was 1-1 with a 2.01 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP in 21 appearances. Since moving into the rotation, he has gone 6-4 in 16 starts with a 3.56 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP.
Kluber has pitched his way quietly back into the Cy Young mix again, adding on win after win in the second half to move back up the leaderboard in that overrated statistic. Since the All-Star break, he has gone 5-2 with a 2.89 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. After losing to the Royals two starts ago on August 25 (five runs allowed in five and one-third innings), he bounced back with a gem against the Rays, allowing just two hits and two walks in seven shutout innings while striking out eight batters, his high water mark in the second half. He is 11-7 in 23 career starts against Kansas City with a 3.09 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP and has earned two wins in five of the seven seasons that he has pitched against them, including this season.
TV: Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio (all); Fox Sports KC (all); MLB Network (9/5 – out of market)
Radio (all): Cleveland Indians Radio Network (CLE); KCSP 610 (KC)
TRANSACTIONS and INJURY NOTES
Cody Anderson (P) – 60-day disabled list (2/25) – recovery from April 2017 UCL surgery; on rehab assignment
Trevor Bauer (SP) – 10-day disabled list (8/12) – right fibula stress fracture
Lonnie Chisenhall (OF) – 60-day disabled list (7/3) – strained left calf
Rajai Davis (OF) – activated from 10-day disabled list (9/1)
Josh Donaldson (3B) – 10-day disabled list (9/1) – left calf strain; on rehab assignment
Jon Edwards (RP) – contract purchased from Triple-A Columbus (9/1)
Nick Goody (RP) – 60-day disabled list (5/3) – right elbow surgery
Eric Haase (C) – recalled from Triple-A Columbus (9/1)
Evan Marshall (RP) – designated for assignment (9/1)
Leonys Martin (OF) – 60-day disabled list (8/9) – non-baseball related issue
Andrew Miller (RP) – 10-day disabled list (8/30) – left shoulder issues
Tyler Naquin (OF) – 10-day disabled list (7/26) – right hip surgery
Neil Ramirez (RP) – activated from 10-day disabled list (9/2)
Danny Salazar (P) – out for season (3/26) – recovery from right shoulder exploratory surgery
Bradley Zimmer (OF) – out for season (7/21) – right shoulder labrum surgery
Cheslor Cuthbert (3B) – 60-day disabled list (5/16) – back strain
Jesse Hahn (P) – 60-day disabled list (3/6) – UCL sprain in right elbow; on rehab assignment
Nate Karns (SP) – 60-day disabled list (3/26) – right elbow inflammation
Ian Kennedy (SP) – 10-day disabled list (7/11) – left oblique strain; on rehab assignment
Salvador Perez (C) – day-to-day (8/29) – left thumb sprain
Eric Skoglund (SP) – 60-day disabled list (5/26) – UCL sprain in left elbow; on rehab assignment
Jorge Soler (OF) – 60-day disabled list (6/16) – fractured first metatarsal in left foot; shut down from rehab assignment
ROYALS NEWS AND NOTES
The Royals are coming off of a better month at the plate, as they hit a season-high 32 homers in August and stole 25 bases. It accounted for their second-most productive month at the dish, trailing only the numbers supplied in May.
KC will be without the services of Lucas Duda, who had killed Indians pitching throughout the year. He was traded prior to the waivers deadline to the Atlanta Braves, who bulked up with another veteran bat for their playoff push. Duda was tied for the team lead against the Indians this season in RBI with nine and doubles with five and was the club leader in homers against Cleveland pitching with four and hits with 16.
Whit Merrifield has performed well against the Indians again this season. He has put together a .304/.340/.543 slash with 14 hits, tops among active Royals players, in his 12 games against the Tribe. He has five doubles, two homers, and seven RBI on the year against Cleveland in 51 plate appearances. He is the Royals’ top road hitter, batting .318 in 65 road games with 18 doubles, seven homers, and 25 RBI. He has a .312/.377/.448 line for the year in 132 games with 36 doubles, a triple, eleven homers, and 51 RBI. He has hit safely in his last seven games (.433 average with 13 hits in that streak).
Ryan O’Hearn made his first plate appearances against the Indians productive ones. The rookie slugger hit .400/.500/.900 in the last series against Cleveland, hitting two doubles and one homer while driving in four runs. In his 23 games, the first baseman is hitting just .244, but has seven homers and 19 RBI in that span.
The veteran catcher Perez has missed the last few games with a thumb sprain and his status for the series is unknown at present. He has played in nine games against Cleveland this season, hitting .257, but he is tied for the team lead in RBI against the Indians with nine. He is the team’s leader in homers this season with 23 and RBI with 65 in his 110 games of activity in an injury-shortened season.
Hunter Dozier and Jorge Bonifacio each come in with active five game hitting streaks. Dozier has nine hits and has hit .450 with a homer and five RBI, while Bonifacio has hit .471 with eight hits and two RBI.
TRIBE BY THE NUMBERS
Michael Brantley leads the Tribe with 14 RBI against the Royals this season. He has hit .300 against them with two doubles and two home runs. On the year in 123 games, Brantley is slashing .304/.358/.467 with 34 doubles, two triples, 14 homers, and 70 RBI. The Indians became the only team in baseball with five players at 70-RBI or more when he added his last run batted in.
Melky Cabrera played well against his former team during the last series with the Royals, hitting .444 (4-for-9) with two doubles and an RBI. He also walked four times in his 13 total plate appearances to give him a .615 on-base percentage for the series. He is now hitting .282 on the season in 56 games with 12 doubles, six homers, and 31 RBI.
Yan Gomes has hit .400 against the Royals this season with two doubles, three homers, and nine RBI. The All-Star backstop has put together a .257/.307/.427 line at the plate with 22 doubles, 12 homers, and 41 RBI in 96 games.
Francisco Lindor has hit .354 against the Royals in 2018 (17-for-48). He leads the team in hits, runs scored (13), doubles (4), and homers (4) against KC and is second in RBI (12). His season average has dipped to .284 in the second half through his first 134 games, as he has hit just .267 in 40 games since the All-Star break. He remains an outside candidate for the 30-30 club, as he has 29 homers and 22 stolen bases with just under a month to play. He leads baseball with 111 runs scored (one ahead of Boston’s Mookie Betts) and leads the Indians with 40 doubles on the year.
Jose Ramirez has scuffled in the second half, dropping his season average to .289 with a .254 average in 40 games since the break. He still has drawn plenty of walks, giving him a .401 on-base percentage in the second half (matching his season production in that stat). He has hit 33 doubles, three triples, and 37 homers and is the team leader with 95 RBI, three ahead of Edwin Encarnacion. He has hit .196 against the Royals this season in 12 games with three doubles, two homers, and eight RBI.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
The Indians will get back out onto the road on Thursday when they start a seven-game road trip with four games in Toronto against the Blue Jays. They will conclude the journey with three games against the Rays in St. Pete.
The Royals will move on to Minneapolis after an off day on Thursday to play the Twins in three straight before returning home for a week.
Photo: Brian Davidson/Getty Images