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Cleveland Indians: Breaking down the weekend series in KC

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KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JULY 27: Jose Ramirez #11 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates his three-run home run with Jason Kipnis #22 and Oscar Mercado #35 in the fifth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on July 27, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JULY 27: Jose Ramirez #11 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates his three-run home run with Jason Kipnis #22 and Oscar Mercado #35 in the fifth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on July 27, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /
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The Indians took three of four from the Royals, but remain looking up at the Twins in the AL Central race. It was still an all-around encouraging weekend.

The Cleveland Indians entered Sunday’s series finale in Kansas City with the possibility of finishing the day tied for first place in the AL Central. It was not to be, as the Royals fended off a four-game sweep and the Twins bounced back from Saturday’s loss with a statement victory over the White Sox.

Sunday’s loss will be especially tough to swallow considering the Indians held two different leads and were unable to hold either. Still, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Even if the cards had fallen in such a way that Cleveland and Minnesota were tied atop the division, nothing would have changed the fact that there are still two months worth of baseball left to be played.

Let’s take a look at some of the noteworthy developments and story lines from the weekend.

Starting Rotation Keeps Rolling

With the exception of Trevor Bauer’s rough outing on Sunday–punctuated by an emotionally-charged heave of the baseball at the Kauffman Stadium batters’ eye as Terry Francona sauntered onto the field to pull him from the game–the Indians starters kept the train rolling.

Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger cruised through their starts on Friday and Saturday, respectively, both giving the Indians seven innings worth of work. Plesac allowed no earned runs, while Clevinger gave up one.

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Adam Plutko deserves a tip of the cap as well, however, for keeping things close in Thursday’s series opener. Plutko gave up a two-run homer in the home half of the first, and dealt with a ton of traffic on the base paths in the first three innings. It looked early on as though he might not last till the fourth. He repeatedly buckled down and pitched his way out of trouble, finishing the game with 5.1 innings and three earned runs allowed.

Plutko kept the game under control and the Indians were able to secure a hard-fought victory in the 14th inning.

Home Run Pitch(es)

Among the many highlights from a series in which the Indians scored 28 runs is the undeniable return to form of Jose Ramirez. Ramirez homered in all four games, one of which gave the Indians a 4-3 lead in the 14th inning of Thursday’s contest.

With his 1-for-4 performance on Sunday, Ramirez’s final tally for the series was eight hits in 21 plate appearances with four homers, two doubles, two walks, eight RBI and four runs scored.

He has hit safely in every game in July except for three, with 11 multi-hit outings to boot. Ramirez is not a player the rest of the American League is happy to see turning a corner at this stage of the season.

Nine-Man Effort

Ramirez and Francisco Lindor combined for six home runs over the weekend, which certainly went a long way toward ensuring the 3-1 series victory. The Indians got contributions up and down the lineup, however, and it shouldn’t be cast aside how well the offense has been able to mesh of late.

Jason Kipnis kicked things off with a grand slam in Saturday’s rout, and scored four runs throughout the series. Oscar Mercado also had a big game on Saturday, hanging a 4-for-5 showing on Royals pitching.

Mike Freeman, Tyler Naquin, and Jake Bauers all scored and drove in at least one run each. Bauers in particular drove in the insurance run that proved to be the difference in Thursday’s 5-4 victory in extra innings. Naquin’s back-to-back multi-hit outings came on the heels of two missed games with hamstring tightness, so it was a relief to see him back out there without any hindrances.

As much fun as it is to see Ramirez and Lindor at the tops of their games, it’s infinitely more refreshing–and reassuring–to see the entire lineup come together.

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The Indians will need all hands on deck and then some as they prepare to jump into the sharp teeth of their August schedule. First up is a three-game home series against the Astros, starting Tuesday. For those who would argue the Indians’ record is a mirage made possible by weak competition, we’ll find out the truth soon enough.

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