The Cleveland Indians open their July schedule someplace they haven’t been in nearly six weeks – alone atop the AL Central.
The surging Indians look to extend their winning streak to five games in Tuesday night’s series opener against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
After opening June 1-8, Cleveland (44-38) closed the month with 14 wins in 19 games to pull within percentage points of Detroit for the division lead. With the Tigers losing Monday, the idle Indians moved into sole possession of first place for the first time since May 23.
Jason Kipnis has been instrumental to the tear, batting .419 with 25 RBIs, 12 doubles and a .517 on-base percentage in 29 June games. He was given the day off in Sunday’s 4-0 win over the Chicago White Sox, which capped a four-game sweep, to give him extra rest heading into a stretch of 13 straight days with games leading into the All-Star break.
The rest seems to come at an opportune time as Kipnis has had trouble with Kansas City pitching.
The AL Player of the Week is 20 for 40 with 17 RBIs during a 12-game hitting streak since going 0 for 4 against the Royals (38-41) on June 17. He is 3 for 17 in his last five games in the series.
Despite Kipnis’ struggles, the Indians have won four of five against the Royals, plating 29 runs in those victories. Mike Aviles has eight RBIs in those games, while Michael Brantley has driven in four and scored six times.
Brantley hit a solo homer against scheduled starter Luis Mendoza (2-4, 4.16 ERA) on June 19. The right-hander gave up four runs in five innings of a 6-3 loss.
Mendoza permitted two runs in 6 2/3 innings in Wednesday’s 4-3, 10-inning win over Atlanta. It was the fifth time in seven starts he yielded two runs or fewer.
Mendoza is still seeking his first home win of the season despite a 2.35 ERA in his last four starts in Kansas City.
The Royals return home after beating Minnesota 9-8 on Sunday to split a four-game set.
David Lough hit three doubles and a tiebreaking homer in the eighth inning, and Eric Hosmer added a solo homer in the ninth for Kansas City, which scored at least four runs for the fourth time in 12 games.
“We’ve never lost confidence as an offense,” said Hosmer, who is 6 for 12 with three home runs in the last three games. “We always knew we had the potential to put up days like this.”
The Royals, last in the AL with 49 homers, haven’t had much offense to speak of in their last five contests against the Indians, totaling 11 runs with a .224 average and no homers.
Scheduled starter Corey Kluber (6-5, 4.16) was on the mound for one of those games, giving up two runs in seven innings of a 10-3 win April 28.
After posting a 1.66 ERA over a three-start winning streak, Kluber was tagged for seven runs and 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings in Thursday’s 7-3 loss at Baltimore. Most of the damage came in the fifth inning when he surrendered five runs and six hits.
“I didn’t feel like there was a lot of bad pitches,” the right-hander said, “just the ones that I did make ended up kind of not being in the best situations for us.”