CLEVELAND — Terry Francona said at the beginning of the Indians’ seven-game homestand that it wasn’t going to be a quick turnaround from the hole they dug in April. After going 5-2 though, the hole isn’t as steep.
The Indians have their first three-game win streak of the season after a 9-4 win over the Twins. That capped a 5-2 homestand that brought the Tribe out of the AL Central cellar by a couple percentage points.
The only thing that wasn’t fixed was the gap in the division. With Detroit winning eight of its last nine, Cleveland is 6 Â½ games back and actually fell a game back compared to the start of the series against the White Sox on May 2.
"We’re still inconsistent in some things, but we’re doing a lot of things better than we were," Francona said. "This whole homestand we played with the lead. We lost it late in a couple games. I think we’re playing with a little more confidence and purpose. It definitely feels better."
Francona talked about having to do to climb out of things the right way. That began with the starting rotation. Coming into the homestand, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister were the only ones with a win as they combined for five. The rotation finished the homestand with four wins with none coming from Kluber and McAllister. Justin Masterson had two, including Thursday, with Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin picking up the others.
Over the past seven games, the starters allowed only 10 earned runs in 46 1/3 innings pitched (1.94 ERA) and struck out 51 with only 13 walks.
"Our pitching gave us a chance every single game and that’s a good way to play," Francona said. "We believe our hitters are going to hit but when you pitch that consistently you always have a chance to win."
On Thursday, Masterson allowed only one hit and faced the minimum number of batters through four innings before running into some trouble in the sixth and seventh. The right-hander allowed just two earned runs (four total) on four hits across 6 1/3 innings with four walks and seven strikeouts in 97 pitches.
Said Masterson about the rotation: "Things have been working well for all of us. We’re just going out there and throwing strikes. That’s what we weren’t doing early. Lately we’ve been able to be in the strike zone and have low pitch counts."
The offense also has started to pick things up, batting .261, which is 23 points higher than what it is during the season. Michael Brantley, who went 3 for 5 with a home run and three RBI, has hit in eight straight games and Mike Aviles, who had the walk-off single on Wednesday, is 8 for his last 11.
The homestand started with a season-high 12 runs against Chicago. They ended it by tying a season high in hits with 15 on Thursday. Four players had three or more hits — Asdrubal Cabrera was 4 for 5 and nearly had a triple while Brantley, Aviles and David Murphy added three apiece.
When the Twins got within 5-4 in the seventh, the Indians promptly answered with three to put the game away.
"Hitting is contagious and you kind of lean on one another," Brantley said. "When a couple guys get on and get a single it just keeps the line moving. It takes the pressure off and we score more runs.
"Confidence is key. We were in a rut at the start (of the season) and now we have to keep the momentum going and move forward."
We’ll see over the next week whether this run has the makings of another bounce-back May (they were 18-12 last season) will be told over the next week with trips to Tampa Bay and Toronto. The next homestand won’t be easy with Oakland and Detroit.
If they are going to do that, they still need to clean up a couple things. They lead the majors in errors with 35, questions remain about closer John Axford after he lost back-to-back games even though he did get the win on Wednesday. The biggest one though is how long can Carlos Santana remain in the cleanup spot batting .143?
"We needed this homestand. It’s never fun to get swept in two series (like they were against the Giants and Angels)," Masterson said. "To come home and take care of business like we were supposed to but come back and win was tremendous, hopefully carries into the next series. Guys have momentum at the plate and we’re pitching well."