Astros, Indians reconvene to wrap up season series

CLEVELAND — The Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians, two teams that are expected to reach the postseason again in 2018, will play their season series over the span of nine days in May.

After the Astros won two of three games last weekend in Houston, the Indians will host the Astros in a four-game series beginning Thursday night at Progressive Field.

Not surprisingly, two of the four pitching matchups for this series are identical to two from last weekend. That includes the Thursday night matchup of Houston’s Charlie Morton (6-0, 1.94 ERA) versus Cleveland’s Mike Clevinger (3-1, 2.87).

On May 18 at Houston, Morton and the Astros beat Clevinger and the Indians 4-1. Morton was outstanding, pitching seven innings and allowing one run, four hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.

Clevinger, who was 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA through his first eight starts of the season, pitched 6 1/3 innings in that game — his ninth start, giving up three runs, eight hits and a season-high four walks, with six strikeouts.

“There’s not much room for error,” said Clevinger, about the challenge of facing the Astros’ high-octane lineup. “They’re loaded from top to bottom, but we’re right there with them. There’s nothing they have that we don’t have.”

Indeed, the two American League rivals have had very spirited games over the last few years, with Cleveland holding a slight edge. Since the start of the 2016 season the Indians are 9-7 versus the Astros. Cleveland won five of six meetings last season.

In three career starts against the Astros, Clevinger is 1-2 with a 2.40 ERA, while in three career starts against the Indians Morton is 1-2 with a 3.93 ERA.

The defending World Series champion Astros (32-18) have picked right up this year from how they finished last year during their impressive march to the winner’s circle, when they won 101 games in the regular season.

The same cannot be said about the Indians.

Cleveland won 102 games last year, including an American League-record 22-game winning streak. But the Indians were surprisingly eliminated in their Division Series against the Yankees, when they won the first two games, but lost the last three.

The hangover from that shockingly quick exit from the 2017 postseason appears to be lingering this year. Cleveland has been loitering at or around the .500 mark for most of this season. The Indians come into Thursday’s game having won their last two games in Chicago, where they outscored the Cubs 11-1 in sweeping two games. That boosted the Indians’ record to 24-23, the first time they’ve had a winning record since May 5, when they were 17-16.

The Indians’ starting pitching has been outstanding, and their hitting, led by Michael Brantley, has been very good. Brantley has a 12-game hitting streak, during which he’s hitting .365, with four home runs and 13 RBIs.

“He’s a pro,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Brantley. “It’s fun to watch him have success, knowing all the work he put in to get healthy.”

The Indians’ biggest problem is their bullpen.

After having the best bullpen in the league the last two years, the Indians are last in the American League in bullpen ERA this year. The Indians’ 5.65 bullpen ERA is almost three runs higher than their league-leading 2.89 ERA last season.

The Astros, meanwhile, continue to roll. They put the finishing touches on a 4-1 homestand with a 4-1 victory over the Giants on Wednesday.

George Springer hit his 10th homer and Justin Verlander struck out nine in six innings as the Astros won for the 11th time in 14 games.

“I’m obviously happy that we are starting to pull things together,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “We’re a good team, and we’re playing like it. I think we’re starting to do a lot of things right. I like our defense, I like our pitching, I like our hitting. I like our team at Game 1 and I like our team at Game 50.”