Carlos Santana’s sixth inning blast turned a 2-2 deadlock into another Tribe sweep as the Indians continue to march towards their first division title since 2007. Santana’s 34th home run made it 5-2 and the Indians bullpen held it right there as the Indians cruised to their 89th victory on Thursday night in front of 15,253 fans.
The Indians jumped on Jason Vargas in the bottom of the first when Jason Kipnis golfed an 0-2 changeup that he had no business driving with any authority over the fence in right for an early 2-0 advantage. For Kipnis, it was the continuation of a strong season where he has set a career high with 23 home runs and has hit lefties at a .294/.336/.474 clip with seven home runs.
After retiring the first five batters of the game, Mike Clevinger hit his first rough patch in the top of the second with a two-out single to Alex Gordon followed by a game-tying two run bomb by Alcides Escobar on a fastball that caught too much of the plate.
After allowing the first two runners to reach in the third, Clevinger really settled into a groove while retiring nine of his final eleven batters. Clevinger’s final line (5 IP, 4 hits, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K’s) is very similar to Josh Tomlin’s last two starts in that both pitchers are succeeding in smaller sample sizes of five or six innings before handing off to the bullpen which leads the AL with a 3.32 ERA. This seems to be a strategy that Francona may look to employ in the playoffs if the Indians decide to go with a four-man rotation.
Dan Otero relieved Clevinger in the sixth and continued his fantastic season with a one-two-three inning before watching Kipnis and Francisco Lindor reach to set the stage for Santana’s blast. Otero, who was purchased from the Philadelphia Phillies on December 18th of last year in a very quiet move, has far exceeded expectation on his league-minimum salary and now stands at 5-1 with a 1.54 ERA over 66.1 innings with a sub-1 WHIP.
In the ninth, Cody Allen got another crack at Salvador Perez one night after allowing a solo shot that brought the Royals within a run in a game that Allen would eventually nail down, thanks in large part to Roberto Perez nailing Terrance Gore on a steal attempt for the first time in Gore’s career (don’t worry Terrance, 16 for 17 is still quite impressive).
Perez squared up Allen again but this time only hit it well enough to send Lindor realing but recovering in time to nail Perez at first for a ground out. After two more outs, the Indians finished off the sweep of the Royals to put the season series at 11-5 in favor of the Tribe with another three games in KC next weekend to wrap up the regular season.
The Tigers play a day/night doubleheader today after a rain out last night. The Tigers thumped the Twins 9-2 in the opener in front of about 55 people and are up 4-2 in the 7th in the nightcap as of press time.
The Indians’ magic number now sits at four, providing a very real possibility that the Indians could clinch at home this weekend against Chicago with some help from these very same Royals who head to Detroit tonight.
Even if the Tigers were to finish the season on an improbable 10-0 run, the Indians could clinch the division by finishing 4-6. Even more promising, with just one win at home this weekend against Chicago and one Tigers loss against KC, the Indians could clinch with just one more victory in their head-to-head matchup in Motown next week.
The Tribe is currently at a season-high 26 games over .500 and their 89 wins are three short of the total from the 2013 Wild Card season. The Indians will have to finish 7-3 in their remaining ten games to match 2007’s record of 96-66.