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Thu, Sep 19, 2013 - 7:05 PM ET
 

Astros-Indians Preview

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The Cleveland Indians blew a chance to wipe away their deficit in the AL wild-card chase.

Squandered opportunities aside, they have to like their remaining schedule.

A favorable stretch to conclude the season begins Thursday night with the first of four home games against the major league-worst Houston Astros.

Entering Wednesday with a one-half game margin separating them from Tampa Bay and Texas, the Indians (82-70) could have moved into the second wild-card spot but instead suffered a 7-2 loss at Kansas City. Since the Rays knocked off the Rangers, Cleveland remains one-half game behind Texas and 1 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay.

"It's not great, but they're a good team," Nick Swisher said of Kansas City. "We had a good road trip, 5-2. We'll take that every time and now we're going home. We're kind of playing against spoiler teams and that's what they're going to try to do to us, spoil it for us."

After the four-game set with Houston - loser of five straight - Cleveland will remain at home for two games with the AL Central-worst Chicago White Sox. The Indians conclude their season with four games in Minnesota.

They have to feel especially good Thursday considering they'll have Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound. Jimenez (12-9, 3.49 ERA) has been nothing short of dominant of late, going 4-2 with a 1.58 ERA over his last six starts. He received a total of two runs of support in the defeats.

He's struck out 50 over his last 40 innings, fanning exactly 10 batters in three of the last five games. Jimenez gave up a run and eight hits in 8 1-3 innings of an 8-1 road victory over the White Sox on Saturday, his longest outing since a complete game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 1, 2011, while with Colorado.

"I was looking for my first shutout in the American League," Jimenez said. "I was able to establish my fastball down. Even when they got runners on base, I was able to get everything down for ground balls."

He has issued just three walks in his last four starts after averaging 4.9 per nine innings in his first 25 outings.

Jimenez was 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA in his first six career starts versus Houston until struggling in this season's lone matchup. He gave up four runs over five-plus innings in Cleveland's 5-4 comeback win on April 21.

The Astros (51-101) could be a weary bunch after a 6-5 home loss in 13 innings to Cincinnati on Wednesday, a game that ended after midnight local time.

Scheduled starter Dallas Keuchel (6-9, 5.17) notched his first win since July 27 against the Los Angeles Angels on Friday, but it wasn't pretty. He gave up six runs and 10 hits - the second straight start he's given up 10 hits - in 5 2-3 innings of a 9-7 victory.

The left-hander was hit hard in a 2 2-3-inning relief outing in a 19-6 loss to Cleveland on April 20, yielding seven hits and seven runs, with three earned. However, his only career complete game also came against the Indians in his second career start on June 23, 2012, tossing a six-hitter in an 8-1 victory.

After surrendering four stolen bases to Billy Hamilton on Wednesday, Houston will have to keep tabs on Jason Kipnis and Michael Bourn, who have 28 and 23 stolen bases, respectively.

Bourn, a Houston native who played for the Astros from 2008-11, is also batting .313 during a season-high eight-game hitting streak. He is a career .158 hitter against his former team.

Tagged: Indians, Astros, Ubaldo Jimenez

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