(AP) — While the AL Central title has already been decided, the battle to avoid finishing last in the division is just heating up.
Separated by one-half game, the two worst teams in the Central open a four-game series Thursday night, when the Kansas City Royals visit the Cleveland Indians.
Minnesota clinched its second straight Central title with Tuesday’s 6-4 win over the Indians, coupled with Chicago’s loss in Oakland an hour later. The Twins celebrated in the clubhouse with champagne that night and rested most of their regulars Wednesday afternoon, but still managed to sweep Cleveland with a 5-1 win.
The Indians left eight runners on base in the finale and 23 in the three-game series.
“We struggled offensively to push runners across the plate,” manager Manny Acta said.
The Indians (62-90) have lost four in a row since taking the first two matchups of last weekend’s three-game series in Kansas City. The Royals (62-89) and Cleveland have split their first 14 meetings.
These teams tied for last in the Central a year ago and Cleveland hasn’t finished alone in last place since it went 57-105 in 1991, when it was a member of the AL East and the Central didn’t yet exist. That was also the last time the Indians finished with 100 losses, something they can prevent with one more victory.
Cleveland plays seven of its final 10 games at home, but that may not be a good thing. The Indians are an AL-worst 10-20 at home since July 24 and scheduled starter Mitch Talbot (9-12, 4.58 ERA) is 0-6 with a 7.80 ERA in 10 starts there since beating the White Sox on May 25.
In his only home start against Kansas City, the right-hander yielded six runs and eight hits in six innings of a 9-3 loss May 20.
Talbot hasn’t pitched since leaving in the first inning against Minnesota on Sept. 12 because of inflammation in his throwing shoulder. He faced three batters, allowing two hits and one walk, and all three came around to score.
The Royals are enduring their own problems away from Kansas City, going a league-worst 7-24 on the road since July 9. They arrive in Cleveland after Wednesday’s 4-2 loss in Detroit, their 13th defeat in 19 games this month.
Kansas City only avoided a shutout Wednesday after Billy Butler’s two-run homer with two outs in the ninth. Butler is batting .484 with three homers and eight RBIs during an eight-game hitting streak, and has a .413 average against the Indians this season.
While the Royals are struggling to win on the road, scheduled starter Sean O’Sullivan (2-6, 6.58) is having no luck regardless of where he’s pitching.
O’Sullivan, 0-6 with a 7.84 ERA in 10 starts since being acquired from the Los Angeles Angels on July 22, permitted five runs – including a grand slam to Matt LaPorta – and six hits in four innings of last Saturday’s 6-4 loss to Cleveland. The right-hander has yielded at least five runs in each of his last four starts for an 11.34 ERA.
By MATT BECKER,