Opposite dugout: Indians bring balanced attack in interleague matchup of division leaders

indians-logo.jpgManager: Terry Francona (4th season)

Record: 56-41

Last 10 games: 4-6

Who to watch: SS Francisco Lindor (.303/.360/.458 with 12 HR, 49 RBIs), 2B Jason Kipnis. (.285 with 16 HR, 52 RBIs), 1B Mike Napoli (22 HR, 68 RBIs), RHP Danny Salazar (11-3, 2.75 ERA), RHP Cody Allen (2.55 ERA with 19 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: First meeting (2-1 in 2013)

Pitching probables:

July 26: LHP Gio Gonzalez vs. RHP Danny Salazar, 7:10 p.m., MASN
July 27: RHP Stephen Strasburg vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco, 12:10 p.m., MASN

Inside the Indians:

The Indians have been one of, if not the biggest, surprises in baseball this season, currently leading the American League Central by 5 1/2 games. And the key to their success this year has been balance, getting strong starting pitching and solid production from the offense.

Cleveland's pitching staff leads the AL with a 3.63 ERA and .238 batting average against, while the lineup ranks in the league's top five in runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. Although the Tribe are coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Orioles in Baltimore, that balanced attack helped them open the second half of the season with road series wins over the division rival Twins and Royals.

Now back at Progressive Field for the first time since the All-Star break, where they are 26-16, the Indians welcome the Nationals for this two-game interleague series for the first time since 2013. Leading the way offensively is the power duo of first baseman Mike Napoli and designated hitter Carlos Santana (no, not that Carlos Santana). Napoli has 22 home runs and 68 RBIs to lead the team, while Santana has knocked 21 homers with 54 RBIs. Second baseman Jason Kipnis has hit 16 longballs to go along with 52 RBIs and a .285 average and shorstop Francisco Lindor sports a .303/.360/.458 slash line.

On the mound, right-hander Danny Salazar will start this series for the Indians while enjoying the best season of his young career. Named to his first All-Star Game, Salazar has also put himself at least in the AL Cy Young Award conversation with his 11-3 record and 2.75 ERA. He is on a seven-game winning streak over his last nine starts, with the Tribe only losing one of those games. He has never faced the Nationals but is 2-5 with a 3.56 ERA in 10 career interleague starts, although he is 2-1 with a 1.27 ERA in three such starts this year.

Right-hander Carlos Carrasco will start the second and final game of this series in Cleveland. Carrasco missed all of May with a strained left hamstring, but still has a respectable 7-3 record with a 2.31 ERA on the season. He has gone 5-1 with a 1.16 ERA over his last six starts. He too has never faced the Nationals but is 4-3 with a 3.23 ERA in 12 appearances (eight starts) in interleague games over his career. This will be Carrasco's first interleague game this year, bringing his 2-1 record and 3.24 ERA at home to face the Nats.

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