The Baltimore Orioles are pulling away in the AL East, but extending their winning ways Friday night could be a tall order against Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber, the hottest starting pitcher in baseball.
Wei-Yin Chen had also been on an impressive roll before his latest outing, and he’ll try to get back on track and deliver a third straight win for hot-hitting Baltimore as it opens a three-game series in Cleveland.
The Orioles (69-50) finished a two-game sweep of their rain-shortened set against the New York Yankees on Wednesday, rallying for a 5-3 victory as Jonathan Schoop and Adam Jones homered in a four-run eighth inning.
Offense has been the key of late for Baltimore, which has scored seven or more runs five times in the past nine games and reached double figures in three of those.
"When we’re down by one we always feel we’re just one pitch away," Jones said.
The Orioles, 7 1/2 games up in the division, haven’t lost two in a row since June 28 and 29, going 27-11 in that span.
Baltimore leads the majors with 152 home runs, is 35-10 when hitting more than one and 58-25 when going deep at least once.
Making Wednesday’s win all the more impressive was the fact that the club played without infielders Manny Machado – placed on the disabled list with a sprained knee prior to the game – and J.J. Hardy, leaving the lineup with a final five of Delmon Young, Steve Pearce, Ryan Flaherty, Schoop and Nick Hundley.
Hardy hopes to return in this series and his team could use him against Kluber (13-6, 2.46 ERA), who’s had little trouble shutting down every lineup he’s faced over the past three weeks and rarely gives up home runs.
The right-hander has allowed one earned run in his last 31 1-3 innings. He won his third straight start and sixth in seven outings Saturday, throwing six innings of four-hit ball in a 3-0 road win over the Yankees. He struck out 10 for the fourth time in seven starts.
"Just stick with my same approach. Maybe just executing a little better," Kluber said of his recent success.
Kluber has given up 10 homers in 171 2-3 innings and none in his previous five starts. He has faced Baltimore twice, most recently pitching seven innings and striking out nine in a 9-0 road win May 24.
Chen (12-4, 3.90) had also been on a roll prior to his last start, coming into it having won a career-best five straight with a 2.53 ERA. He wasn’t nearly as effective Wednesday, allowing four runs in five innings of a 5-1 loss to Toronto.
The left-hander has struggled against Cleveland, allowing 11 runs in 13 innings over two starts. The latest was an 8-7 home loss May 22 in which he gave up five runs in 6 2-3 innings.
The Indians (60-60), though, still haven’t established any extended consistency after their three-game winning streak ended in a 1-0, 12-inning home loss to Arizona on Wednesday. They are five games out of the second wild-card spot and need to pass three teams to reach it.
The club’s offense will get a needed boost Friday with the return of outfielder Michael Bourn, who’s been on the DL since June 6 with a hamstring injury.
Nelson Cruz is 3 for 9 with two doubles and a homer off Kluber, while Michael Brantley – batting .412 in his last 13 games – has gone 3 for 5 with a triple and a double against Chen.