A pair of playoff hopefuls are set to square off at Progressive Field on Friday, as the Cleveland Indians host the Texas Rangers in the opener of a three-game set.
Both teams entered the day in second place in their respective divisions. Cleveland (53-48) trails the Detroit Tigers by three games in the American League Central, while Texas (56-46) sits three games back of the Oakland Athletics in the AL West. The Rangers are also a half-game out in the race for the league's final wild card spot.
Cleveland just wrapped up a 2-4 road trip against two teams with losing records. After dropping two of three at Minnesota last weekend, the Indians staved off a three-game sweep at Seattle by winning Wednesday's series finale, 10-1. Overall, the Tribe committed nine errors on the six-game trip, including four in four games by third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall.
Scott Kazmir yielded only one hit in eight innings in Wednesday's victory, continuing a trend of strong pitching during the team's recent, albeit unsuccessful, road trip. Kazmir also fanned seven batters. Michael Bourn sparked the offense with his first career grand slam in the fifth inning, while Asdrubal Cabrera drove in three runs and scored four times to help the Tribe snap Seattle's eight-game winning streak.
Meanwhile, Texas has lost nine of 12, although two of those victories came against the New York Yankees this week as the teams split a four-game series.
The Rangers are coming off Thursday's 2-0 loss to the Yankees. The offense managed only six singles through seven innings against Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda.
On a positive note, shortstop Elvis Andrus, after struggling throughout much of the season's first half, has hit safely in all seven games since the All- Star break (9-for-25). Andrus was recently moved back to the No. 2 spot in the lineup.
"Now in the second half, I feel way better," Andrus said. "I feel my approach is back. I feel comfortable having a plan, and now I can execute it."
The Rangers will turn to Martin Perez, who has posted a 3.40 in seven starts this season. However, the left-hander has lost each of his last two outings, the most recent of which came at home against Baltimore this past Sunday. Perez was tagged for four earned runs on nine hits and exited after 6 1/3 innings.
For Cleveland, Corey Kluber has won four of his last five decisions but left his last start after five scoreless innings due to tightness in his left hip area. The good news for Twins fans is that Kluber was able to pitch through the discomfort, as he allowed only three hits and struck out seven.
"It's a little sore still, but nothing that's to the same extent as (Saturday) night," Kluber said on Sunday, the day after he faced the Twins. "It's something I can pitch through. (Coming out of the game) was just a precautionary move."
Kluber, who is unbeaten with a 1.52 ERA in his last five home starts, elicited high praise from manager Terry Francona.
"We're trying to fight it out in this division with guys like Corey and we're excited about it," Francona said. "He's getting better, it seems like, almost every start, whether he's learning something or gaining experience. And, in the meantime, he's winning games."
Cleveland won two of three against the Rangers earlier this season and is 13-4 against the AL West.