It’s the final series of the regular season for the Cleveland Indians as they travel to Kansas City to take on the Royals. Here’s a quick primer on everything you need to know before first pitch.
Depending on how the American League Wild Card race plays out, the Cleveland Indians could be staring down the final three games of the 2016 regular season this weekend in Kansas City. The Tribe has already clinched the Central Division, but Thursday’s rainout in Detroit means a Monday matinee may be needed to finalize the playoff picture.
Cleveland enters play on Friday the No. 3 seed in the AL, 2.5 games behind the Texas Rangers for the best record and a half a game behind the Boston Red Sox. The Indians magic number to be eliminated from the race for the top seed is just one, meaning a loss or a Rangers’ win would knock them out of the running. The second seed, however, is still very much in play.
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The defending champion Royals, meanwhile, already know they will not be playing beyond this weekend. At 81-78, though, manager Ned Yost’s squad is playing for pride and to end the season above the .500 mark despite a rash of injuries that decimated their lineup.
Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Wade Davis, each a key component to 2015’s championship run, have missed significant time this year. Those losses proved too much for Kansas City to overcome.
“There is really no playing the what-if game,” Yost said. “It doesn’t do you any good.”
The Tribe, which has endured more than its fair share of injuries as well, would like nothing more than to come through this weekend with a series win while avoiding any additional health scares. The team is already without Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, and Carlos Carrasco for the postseason, with Danny Salazar and his right forearm being a question mark and Corey Kluber dealing with a quadriceps strain but determined to be ready for the ALDS.
Before the series gets started, here’s what you need to know about Cleveland and KC.
Numbers to Know
Indians’ shortstop Francisco Lindor has been that rare player to avoid a prolonged sophomore slump, but playing everyday seems to have caught up to him. The 22-year old is slashing just .220/.343/.268 with an OPS+ of 71 in 24 games during the month of September.
Still the Tribe’s bWAR leader among position players at 5.4, Lindor has gone hitless in his last 27 at-bats and 3-for-50 over his last 16 games, has not hit a home run since August 10th, and has seen a 45-point dip in his OPS.
Cleveland comes into the series with an 11-5 record against Kansas City this season, good for a .688 winning percentage. It is the best performance against the Royals for the Tribe since 2011 when they went 12-6. Since that time, the Indians have gone 8-10, 10-9, 10-9, 9-10 against KC, showing how close this rivalry has been.
Names to Know
Cleveland manager Terry Francona will be handing the ball to Merritt on Friday night, the 24-year old’s first major league start. The left-hander has appeared in three games out of the bullpen for the Indians in 2016, allowing a run on three hits in six innings, striking out two, walking no one, and posting an ERA+ of 329.
We wrote about the possibility of Merritt and fellow rookie Adam Plutko getting a shot at starting once the division had been clinched, and the Indians are doing just that.
On the surface, Hosmer appears to have put together quite a successful season in 2016, starting at first base for the American League in the all-star game and winning game MVP honors, hitting 25 home runs, and driving in 103 runs.
But, as the Kansas City Star points out, his OPS+ of 101 is a sizable dropoff from the 122 mark he posted in 2015, and his bWAR dropped from 3.6 a season ago to just 1.0 this year.
Game Times, Broadcast Info, & Pitching Probables
Friday, September 30th, 8:15 p.m. ET (SportsTime Ohio)
Merritt (0-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. Yordano Ventura (11-11, 4.40)
Saturday, October 1st, 4:15 p.m. ET (FS1)
Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26) vs. Edinson Volquez (10-11, 5.37)
Sunday, October 2nd, 3:15 p.m. ET (SportsTime Ohio)
Josh Tomlin (12-9, 4.48) vs. Ian Kennedy (11-10, 3.69)
With the division clinched, it may seem as though Cleveland has little left to play for this weekend. But with a jump in playoff seeding and home-field advantage still a possibility, the Tribe can’t take the series against the Royals off. It’s time to finish off the regular season with the same tenacity the club has played with for the past six months.