Indians aiming for three-game sweep of Royals

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians will attempt to complete a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals Thursday night, when the two teams meet for the final game of their three-game series.

The first two games have both been one-run games. The Indians won Tuesday 2-1, and won 4-3 on Wednesday. Thursday's pitching matchup will be rookie right-hander Mike Clevinger (2-2, 4.76) for the Indians and Royals left-hander Jason Vargas (0-0, 3.00).

It will be Clevinger's ninth start and 15th appearance this year. Clevinger had been working out of the bullpen, but with the injuries to starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, Clevinger is being moved back in the rotation, and could be a candidate to start in the postseason.

This will be Clevinger's first career appearance vs. the Royals. In seven appearances, four of them starts, at Progressive Field this year, Clevinger is 2-1 with a 3.52 ERA.

Vargas will be making his second start since his return from Tommy John surgery. In his first start Sept 17 against the White Sox, he pitched three innings and gave up one run on two hits with a walk and one strikeout. That start was his first since July 21, 2015. In 12 career starts against the Indians, Vargas is 6-3 with a 4.70 ERA.

As the 2016 regular season winds down, the two teams are headed in opposite directions. The reigning World Series champion Royals were eliminated from the AL Central Division race on Wednesday. Kansas City is still alive, barely, in the wild-card race.

The Indians, meanwhile, are counting down to their first Central Division championship since 2007. Their win Wednesday reduced their magic number for clinching the division title to five.

"These are the kind of games you work in the offseason and in spring training to be able to play," said Indians pitcher Corey Kluber, who pitched into the seventh inning to win his 18th game on Wednesday.

The Indians are in first place in the Central Division, leading second-place Detroit by 7 1/2 games with 11 games to play.

"We know we're in a good spot, but there is still work to do. We're just going to take it one game at a time," Kluber said.

The Indians overall seem invigorated by their quest to win the division for the first time in nine years, but one Indians player who could clearly use a break is shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Lindor played in his team-leading 150th game Wednesday night. Lindor also leads the Indians in plate appearances and at-bats. All that playing may be taking its toll. In his last 11 games, Lindor, who is in an 0-17 hitless streak, is hitting .077 (3-for-39), which has caused his season average to drop from .322 to .306. "This is his first full season, and he's learning from it," manager Terry Francona said. "You can tell he's a little tired, but he's still playing the heck out of shortstop."

The Royals' season has been hampered by numerous injuries to key players, and their late-game magic that was a big part of their success last year has not always been there this year.

Wednesday night, for example, speedster Terrance Gore was inserted into the game as a pinch runner at first base, with the Royals trailing 4-3 in the ninth inning. Gore was 9-for-9 in stolen base attempts this year and 17-for-17 in his career, but he was thrown out at second for the first time in his career, by Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez.

"They had perfect execution. That's the only way you're going to get Gore, and they pulled it off," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "(Pitcher Cody) Allen was quick to the plate and Perez flew out and made a perfect throw. Gore can steal a base when everyone in the park knows he's going, but they just had perfect execution."