CLEVELAND -- It's called "The Battle of Ohio" and there is actually a trophy awarded to the winner each year. Thursday night, the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds will meet for the fourth and final time in 2017.
The Reds have won two of the first three games of the series, meaning the best the Indians can do is split this year's series, with a win Thursday night.
That may not be easy, however, because the Indians are playing at home, where they inexplicably have struggled. The Indians have lost three games in a row, and five of their last seven at Progressive Field. The Indians' home record of 8-11 is the worst in the American League.
It's been going so bad for the Indians at home that Wednesday night they lost a game after turning what appeared to be a game-ending double play, only to have it overturned by video review. That turned a 3-2 victory into a 4-3 loss.
On the plus side, the Indians may soon be getting back their ace, Corey Kluber. Kluber has been on the disabled list since May 3 with a strained lower back. He is scheduled to make a rehab start at Triple-A Columbus on Thursday, after which Indians officials will meet to decide whether to activate Kluber off the disabled list or have him make one more rehab start.
"We need to hear a lot of opinions from everyone and make the best decision we can," Francona said.
In the meantime, right-hander Mike Clevinger (2-1, 1.56), who has been very impressive in replacing Kluber in the rotation, will start for the Indians Thursday night against Reds righty Tim Adleman (2-2, 6.19).
Clevinger is coming off the best start of his major league career. In a 3-0 win over Houston on May 10, Clevinger pitched seven scoreless innings on two hits, with eight strikeouts and two walks.
Clevinger started the season with Triple-A Columbus, where in 23 starts over the last two years he is 14-2 with a 2.63 ERA. He was recalled from Columbus on May 7.
Adelman will make his eighth appearance of the season, his seventh straight start. It will be his second career appearance vs. the Indians. His previous appearance against Cleveland came on May 19 of last year, a 7-2 loss in which he pitched 3 1/3 innings, giving up three hits, two runs, and two walks, with three strikeouts.
Although the Reds are two games under .500 at 22-24, Manager Bryan Price feels that his team is playing better than that record indicates.
"We're kind of in a weird place," Price said. "We're playing pretty good. It's just that in some games one bad inning does it."
The Reds seem to be picking up some momentum playing the Indians this week. The Reds' rousing 4-3 win on Wednesday was one of their best of the year, coming as it did with a ninth-inning rally against a Cleveland bullpen that is considered one of the best in baseball.
But according to Francona, the middle of the Reds' lineup is one of the best, and most overlooked, in the majors.
"You may not hear a lot about them, but there's a lot of production there in the middle of their order," Francona said. "They can hit the ball a long way. If you make a mistake against them, you pay for it."
The Reds are the only team in the majors with four players with 10 or more home runs: Scott Schebler (13), Joey Votto (12), Adam Duvall (10) and Eugenio Suarez, (10).