Tito: ‘I never thought there would be a letdown’
SEATTLE — Just as the Seattle Mariners are looking for any break they can muster to remain in the postseason race, they get to welcome one of the hottest teams in baseball history — not the sort of break they needed.
The Cleveland Indians (96-57) come to Safeco Field on a tear, boasting a 27-1 record over their past 28 games, a run that featured an American League-record 22-game winning streak as they ran away with the AL Central division title.
Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. on SportsTime Ohio
“They’ve got a good squad,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “They’ve played great. Watching the game today, they’re not backing off at all.”
It isn’t surprising to Cleveland manager Terry Francona that his club would just keep on winning.
“I never thought there would be a letdown,” Francona said. “All the things that I say, and I know sometimes people roll their eyes, but it’s why we do it. We play the game today. If you do that, there’s no reason to have a letdown.”
Meanwhile, Seattle is licking its wounds having lost a season-worst six straight. The Mariners (74-79) were just swept by the Rangers in a three-game series at Safeco Field, capped by a 4-2 Texas win Thursday.
The Indians might be on a historical tear, but the Mariners have held their own the past two seasons against the defending AL champions: Cleveland and Seattle are 5-5 head to head in 2016 and 2017.
Cleveland has made a couple of improvements however, adding slugger Edwin Encarnacion (.254, 37 home runs, 96 RBIs) in the offseason and outfielder Jay Bruce (.257, 34 home runs, 96 RBIs) in a trade with the New York Mets on Aug. 9.
“We’ve played pretty well against them,” Servais said. “Obviously, Encarnacion has added a nice element to their lineup.”
With a victory against Seattle on Friday, the Indians could match the 1884 Providence Grays — the team that featured 59-game winner Old Hoss Radbourn — for baseball’s best 29-game stretch. More practically, the Indians are a game behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in baseball and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
“It’s refreshing to see that we have a chance to overtake them and hopefully have that best record,” Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin said Wednesday night. “If you’re going to get to the World Series, home-field advantage will help.”
The Mariners are still trying to stay in the chase for the second AL wild-card spot, sitting five games behind the Minnesota Twins.
Right-hander Trevor Bauer (16-9, 4.41 ERA) takes the mound in the series opener for Cleveland. Bauer took the loss when the Indians’ 22-game winning streak was snapped against Kansas City on Sept. 15, pitching 5 1/3 innings and allowing four runs on nine hits.
Prior to that, Bauer had won his last nine decisions, a streak that dated back to July 21.
Bauer has not enjoyed great success against the Mariners, going 1-4 with a 5.52 ERA in 31 innings. Kyle Seager has hit .400 (6-for-15) with a homer and five RBIs against Bauer in his career, while Nelson Cruz is 6-for-10 with a homer and three RBIs.
Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (5-6, 4.56 ERA) will start for the Mariners, having gone winless in his past five starts. However, Ramirez has been solid of late, notching quality starts in six of seven outings for a 3.54 ERA over his past 40 2/3 innings.
In six career appearances (three starts) against the Indians, Ramirez is 1-2 with a 4.58 ERA, though he hasn’t faced them this year.
Ramirez has had some success against Encarnacion, limiting him to a .235 average (4-for-17) in his career — but that has come with two home runs.