The Cleveland Indians suffered a rare road loss Friday when their offense uncharacteristically struggled, but such blips have been few and far between over the last month for the American League’s top team. The Indians look to win a ninth straight series and improve to 29-2 over 31 contests on Sunday when they face the host Seattle Mariners in the rubber match of their three-game set.
Cleveland managed only three hits in a 3-1 setback in the series opener, but a combination of shoddy defense by the Mariners and powerful offense kept the AL Central champions from losing back-to-back games for the first time since Aug. 22-23 in Saturday’s 11-4 rout. Yan Gomes homered in the eighth inning and capped off a five-run ninth with a three-run shot, helping the Indians maintain a 1 1/2-game advantage over Houston for the best record in the AL. Despite Nelson Cruz homering for the fourth time in as many games, the Mariners tied a season high with five errors and lost for the seventh time in eight tries to drop six games behind Minnesota for the final wild-card slot. “It was about catching the baseball and doing things right, fundamentally. We’ve struggled with that, and it’s an area that needs to be addressed here as we go forward. … Every out is so crucial in this game, and if you don’t get them, you pay the price,” Seattle manager Scott Servais told reporters after the game.
TV: 4:10 p.m. ET, STO (Cleveland), ROOT Northwest (Seattle)
PITCHING MATCHUP: Indians RH Corey Kluber (17-4, 2.35 ERA) vs. Mariners RH Mike Leake (10-12, 3.91)
Kluber strengthened his case for a second Cy Young Award with another dominant effort against Kansas City last Sunday, allowing only three singles while striking out nine in seven frames to earn his fifth win in as many starts. The two-time All-Star is 10-1 with a 1.92 ERA in 13 second-half outings and carries a 22-inning scoreless streak into the series finale. Cruz is 5-for-19 with a homer versus Kluber, who is 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA in three career starts against the Mariners.
Leake continued his resurgence since joining Seattle at the end of August despite not factoring into the decision versus Texas on Tuesday, yielding only one run on six hits over 6 2/3 innings. The 29-year-old Arizona State product is 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA in four trips to the mound with the Mariners after going 7-12 with a 4.21 ERA with St. Louis. Carlos Santana (2-for-15) has struggled versus Leake, who is 2-1 with a 3.89 ERA in six starts against the Indians.
1. Indians OF Jay Bruce told reporters he may be limited to designated hitter duties Sunday after leaving Saturday’s game with left heel discomfort, while Santana underwent a precautionary X-ray on his left shoulder.
2. Cruz has hit safely in 22 of his last 23 at Safeco Field and is batting .300 with 19 homers and 60 RBIs in 78 home contests this season.
3. Cleveland DH Edwin Encarnacion, who did not play Saturday, needs to drive in two more runs to become the fifth player in team history with 100 RBIs and 100 walks in the same season.
PREDICTION: Indians 4, Mariners 1