(AP) — The Cleveland Indians are in a much different race than they’d hoped, and pride is giving them enough motivation.
It may also be a factor in trying to avoid their longest slide against the Kansas City Royals in 34 years.
The Indians hope to end Friday night out of the AL Central cellar and snap a five-game skid to the Royals in the opener of this three-game series at Kauffman Stadium.
Cleveland (62-88) emerged from the All-Star break to beat Toronto on July 13, sitting three games back of division-leading Chicago.
The Indians have been in a tailspin ever since, going 17-47 while dropping 27 of 34 on the road.
Instead of competing for the top spot in the Central, Cleveland is tied with Minnesota at the bottom of the division and is trying to avoid its first last-place finish since 1991 in the AL East.
“No one wants to finish last,” manager Manny Acta said. “It’s a pride thing. … It just doesn’t sound good.”
The Indians moved out of sole possession of last place Thursday, beating the Twins 4-3 on Casey Kotchman’s bases-loaded single in the 10th inning.
“It’s nice to get on this flight with a win,” said Kotchman, who went 3 for 5 with two RBIs. “Winning makes everything a little bit better.”
Cleveland hasn’t done any of that in the last five meetings with the Royals (68-81), losing each while compiling a 6.45 ERA – 11.03 from its starters.
The Indians last dropped six straight to Kansas City in 1978.
Justin Masterson (11-14, 4.93 ERA) was hit hard in his last matchup against the Royals, an 8-2 defeat on May 29. He surrendered seven runs in the first two innings and gave up another before exiting after the sixth.
The right-hander is 3-2 with a 4.09 ERA in eight games – seven starts – against Kansas City.
Masterson enters this meeting looking to avoid a third straight losing start and match his career high in wins from last year.
He was reached for four runs – two earned – and six hits over 4 2-3 innings of a 5-3 loss to Detroit on Saturday.
The Royals are batting .310 with 11 stolen bases during their winning streak over the Indians, and enter this series with momentum after Eric Hosmer’s walkoff single beat Chicago 4-3 Thursday.
Alex Gordon is 5 for 11 in his last three games overall and is batting .457 (16 for 35) with two homers and eight RBIs in the past eight meetings with the Indians. He’s 11 for 27 (.407) with a homer and three doubles off Masterson.
Luis Mendoza (7-9, 4.50) is scheduled to return to the rotation for the Royals after missing his last start with strep throat.
The right-hander last took the mound Sept. 13 in a 4-3, 10-inning loss at Minnesota, where he allowed one run with six strikeouts in six innings.
He’s 0-1 with a 5.61 ERA in his last six starts, but 3-0 with a 4.40 ERA in his last five at home with all of them ending in Royals victories. That stretch includes a 5-2 win over Cleveland on Aug. 1, when he yielded two runs and four hits in 7 1-3 innings.
Billy Butler’s next RBI will make him the first Royal with 100 since Carlos Beltran’s 100 in 2003.