Manager: Terry Francona, second year
Last 10 games: 5-5
Who to watch: LF Michael Brantley (.325/.383/.517, 32 doubles, 17 HR, 78 RBIs, 77 R, 13 SB); C Carlos Santana (.226/.365/.425, 20 HR, 56 RBIs); 3B Lonnie Chisenhall (.292/.358/.460, 23 doubles, 11 HR, 46 RBIs); RHP Corey Kluber (13-6, 2.46 ERA, 1.07 WHIP)
Season series vs. O’s: 2-2, 23 runs scored, 19 runs against
The Indians are the perfect picture of a .500 team.
They aren’t one that went through a major surge or steep fall to get to even. They simply have played up-and-down ball all year long, unable to consistently win or lose pretty much from the outset.
To be fair, the Indians did recover from being six games under .500 four times in the early going, the last being at 24-30 on May 28. But Cleveland has just one winning streak and one losing streak of longer than four games, and none since its season-best string of six straight wins was halted on June 6.
That has them at 60-60 at August’s mid-point, good for third place in the American League Central and six games behind first-place Kansas City. They’re 5 1/2 games behind division-rival Detroit for the second Wild Card.
The Indians are one of the AL’s top offensive clubs, ranking fifth on the junior circuit with 525 runs. They also rank seventh with a .719 OPS and eighth with 114 homers and a .255 average.
Cleveland has had some difficulty in that department a bit lately, however, scoring more than four runs just once in its last eight games and averaging just 2.6 per contest (21 total) during that time.
But the Indians lineup should get a boost for this weekend’s series against the AL East-leading Orioles, with leadoff hitter and center fielder Michael Bourn expected to return from the disabled list tonight.
Bourn hasn’t played since July 5 because of a hamstring injury. Limited to 66 games, Bourn is having his second straight down season since signing with Cleveland. He’s batting .267 with a .318 on-base percentage, 19 extra-base hits and seven steals in 10 tries.
The Indians continue to be without David Murphy and Nick Swisher, who are both on the DL. Murphy and Swisher have combined for 41 doubles, 15 homers and 97 RBIs.
However, they do have outfielder Michael Brantley healthy. The 27-year-old is in the middle of a breakout season, as he’s third in the majors with a .325 average and ninth with 78 RBIs. He’s also fourth in the AL with 77 runs scored and fifth with an .899 OPS.
First baseman Carlos Santana leads the club with 20 homers and ranks second with 56 RBIs. Catcher Yan Gomes is having a solid year with 16 homers and 52 RBIs. And third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall is starting to reach his potential, ranking second on the squad with an .818 OPS and 23 doubles.
On the mound, the Indians have a terrific bullpen and a mediocre rotation behind ace Corey Kluber. That has them ranked seventh in the AL with a 3.79 team ERA, third with a 2.93 bullpen ERA and 12th with a 4.31 rotation ERA.
Kluber, who pitches against Wei-Yin Chen in tonight’s series opener, has been one of the best starters in baseball. The 28-year-old right-hander ranks third in the AL with a 2.46 ERA and eighth with a 1.07 WHIP. His 13 wins are one off the major league lead.
Kluber hasn’t lost since June 30, winning his last six decisions. He also hasn’t allowed more than four earned runs since his first start of the season. Lately, he’s been incredible, holding opponents to one earned run in 31 1/3 innings for a 0.29 ERA over his last four outings. He has struck out 35 and walked just three during that time.
Only one other pitcher in the rotation has an ERA under 4.00 - right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who faces former Indians ace Ubaldo Jimenez in the second game of the series. Carrasco is 4-4 with a 3.60 ERA in 31 appearances (five starts). He started the year in the rotation, lost his job and then regained it recently. The 27-year-old held the Yankees scoreless on two hits and no walks in five innings on Sunday in his first start since April.
Jimenez will be making his second start of the season against his former club. He allowed five runs in four innings in a 9-0 Orioles loss on May 24.
Left-hander T.J. House will start opposite Orioles rookie Kevin Gausman in Sunday’s series finale. House is 1-3 with a 4.13 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts) this year. He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his last seven starts, pitching to a 3.49 ERA during that time.
The Orioles might want to keep the Indians starters in for as long as possible because the back end of the club’s bullpen has been exceptional. Closer Cody Allen has converted 15 of 16 save opportunities while going 4-2 with a 1.93 ERA in 57 appearances. Set-up man Bryan Shaw is 4-3 with a 2.62 ERA in 57 appearances.
The Orioles might not be facing the most consistent of clubs as they look to add to the largest division lead in baseball (7 1/2 games). But they will be facing a challenge with a productive offense and an ace like Kluber waiting.
On top of that, the Indians have the fourth-best home record in baseball, going 35-23 at Progressive Field. So the Birds will have to be at their best to improve on their AL-leading road record (34-26).