Manager: Terry Francona (5th season)
Last 10 games: 10-0
Who to watch: 2B José Ramírez (.309 with 25 HR, 69 RBIs), SS Francisco Lindor (27 HR, 71 RBIs), RF Jay Bruce (.278 4 HR, 14 RBIs), DH Edwin Encarnacion (33 HR, 85 RBIs), RHP Trevor Bauer (15-8, 4.39 ERA), RHP Cody Allen (2.70 ERA, 24 saves)
Season series vs. Orioles: 3-1
Inside the Indians:
The Indians are firmly in command of the American League Central with an 11-game cushion, which puts them in position to defend their AL championship come October. September has seen the Tribe clicking on all cylinders: Cleveland is the hottest team in the majors, has won a club-record 15 straight games - the longest win binge in the bigs this season - and the offense is coming from all over. Not so quietly, the Indians are creeping up on the Astros for the best record in the AL. If a club should be peaking in the season’s final month, the Indians are gleefully following that script, which could be bad news for whoever they draw in the American League Division Series. Remember, it’s not always the best club that succeeds in the playoffs; quite often, the team that’s hottest when the calendar turns to October derives added benefit from the confidence that comes with winning.
No one on the Tribe is hotter right now than second baseman José Ramirez, who has homered five times in September and is slashing .448/.488/.1.211 in his last nine games. But a wrist injury could keep him out of the lineup for the first couple of games of the series. Since being acquired from the Mets on Aug. 9, right fielder Jay Bruce has driven in 14 runs and hit four homers, while designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion is a longtime Orioles nemesis, posting a .287/.368/.544 line with 17 homers and 42 RBIs at Camden Yards. The back issues that limited first baseman Carlos Santana are apparently a thing of the past: He’s slugged nine homers, driven in 20 runs and walked 22 times since Aug. 1. Rookie center fielder Bradley Zimmer has stolen 17 bases and switch-hitting shortstop Francisco Lindor has 27 homers and 71 RBIs, and is hitting .300 since the All-Star break. There aren’t a lot of holes in the Indians order, and they seem to be getting hot at the right time.
If the Orioles get a break during this series, it’s the fact that they’ll miss two of Cleveland’s top starting pitchers, right-handers Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber. But that doesn’t mean they won’t have their hands full. Right-hander Mike Clevinger, who has stepped in to record an 8-5 record and 3.50 ERA when injuries and inconsistency threatened the rotation, has been a savior. Friday night’s starter has won his past three decisions and is coming off six innings of three-hit scoreless ball against the Tigers on Sept. 1. He’s 1-0 with a 6.00 ERA in two career starts versus Baltimore. Righty Josh Tomlin, Saturday’s starter, has won his last four decisions and has a 3.12 ERA in his last six starts. But Tomlin has struggled against the Orioles, going 3-3 with a 5.72 ERA in eight games (seven starts). Righty Trevor Bauer gets Sunday’s start, and hopes to improve on his American League-leading 15 victories. Bauer has won his past eight decisions and hasn’t lost a game since July 16. Over that span, he has a 2.47 ERA and has worked at least six innings in eight of nine starts.
The Indians boast a 2.91 ERA out of the bullpen, best in the majors - even without powerhouse left-hander Andrew Miller, who is on the disabled list with right knee soreness. Closer Cody Allen has a 1.22 WHIP and 2.70 ERA, but he’s lost six games and blown four save chances in 28 opportunities.