Indians trying to avoid sweep by last-place Royals

The first-place Cleveland Indians will attempt to avoid being swept in a three-game series by the last-place Kansas City Royals when the two teams meet on Sunday afternoon in Kauffman Stadium.

After splitting a tense and competitive four-game series with the Red Sox in Boston on the first leg of a seven-game road trip, the Indians have looked flat in dropping the first two games in Kansas City by a combined score of 12-5, including the Royals beating Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber 7-1 Saturday night.

Cleveland has lost four in a row, matching its longest losing streak of the year.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to play better,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We look a little tired. We’ve got to show up (Sunday) and grind and find a way to win.”

The Indians go into Sunday’s series finale with their two most important hitters, both MVP candidates, in slumps. In the first six games of the road trip Francisco Lindor is hitting .154 (4-for-26) with no RBIs, and Jose Ramirez is hitting .143 (3-for-21) with no RBIs.

“They’re having a tough time,” Francona said. “We lean on them so much, and we will continue to. But (Royals pitchers) have done a real good job on those guys the last couple of nights.”

In their 7-1 loss Saturday night the Indians were out-hit by the Royals 14-5. Cleveland’s only run came on a balk.

Sunday’s pitching matchup will be a pair of right-handers, Cleveland’s Shane Bieber vs. Kansas City’s Jorge Lopez.

Bieber (7-2, 4.36) is coming off one of his most impressive starts of the season, a 6-3 win over Boston on Aug. 21 in which he held the Red Sox’ potent offense scoreless on two hits through the first six innings. Bieber’s final line was 6 1/3 innings, three runs, five hits, with five strikeouts and no walks.

Bieber is a rookie, and like many rookies he’s been very streaky. In four August starts he is 2-0 with a 3.13 ERA. In his four starts prior to that he was 1-2 with a 7.71 ERA. In his four starts prior to that he was 4-0 with a 2.19 ERA.

Sunday will be Bieber’s second career appearance vs. Kansas City. His only other appearance against the Royals was a start on July 3 in which he got the win in a 6-4 Cleveland victory. He pitched six innings, allowing four runs and nine hits, with two strikeouts and one walk.

Lopez (0-3, 3.99) was acquired by Kansas City from Milwaukee as part of a trade in which the Royals sent Mike Moustakas to the Brewers. Lopez was used as a reliever in Milwaukee, but the Royals are using him as a starter.

In 10 relief appearances with the Brewers Lopez was 0-1 with a 2.75 ERA. In two starts with the Royals he is 0-2 with a 6.52 ERA. Lopez also appeared in a combined 26 games (two starts) at the Triple-A level for the Brewers and Royals and was 4-3 with a 5.26 ERA.

Lopez’s last major league start for Kansas City was a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Aug. 20, in which he pitched five innings, allowing one run and five hits, with three strikeouts and three walks.

Lopez has one career appearance vs. Cleveland, a relief effort for Milwaukee on May 9. He pitched two innings, giving up two runs and two hits, with one strikeout and no walks.

For his career overall at the major league level, Lopez is 1-3 with a 5.95 ERA in four career starts. In 11 career relief appearances he is 0-1 with a 2.91 ERA.