As the pennant races heat up, Big League Stew takes a closer look at some of the biggest series down the stretch.
Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals
SITUATION: It's mid-September and the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals are both playoff contenders in the American League. That alone is quite a story. They meet for a three-game series starting Monday in Kansas City with plenty of playoff implications.
The Indians (81-68) and the Royals (78-71) are both in the running for the AL Wild Card, with Cleveland just a half game out and Kansas City 3 1/2 games out. It would be the first playoff berth for the Royals since 1985 and the first for the Indians since 2007. Both were I-think-I-can teams coming into this season, neither looking strong enough to top the Tigers in the AL Central, but both with enough promise to surprise some people.
And here they are, still in it with two weeks left. Both teams have proven streaky this season, but they've been winning thus far in September. The Royals are 9-5 while the Indians are 10-4. The Indians are much closer to sliding into a Wild Card spot, but either team still has a shot in the very tight AL Wild Card race.
PREVIOUSLY: Cleveland leads the season series 9-7, but the Royals took two of three when they met last week in Cleveland.
Monday: Scott Kazmir (8-8, 4.24 ERA) vs. James Shields (11-9, 3.38 ERA)
Tuesday: Corey Kluber (9-5, 3.55) vs. Yordano Ventura (0-0, -.-- ERA)
Wednesday: Danny Salazar (1-2, 2.66 ERA) vs. Bruce Chen (7-3, 3.11 ERA)
STORYLINES TO WATCH:
• Will either team gain some traction in the wild card race? The Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays would the be AL Wild Card teams if the regular season ended today. They're playing a series against each other right now too, so the entire AL Wild Card race could be turned upside by down by Thursday. The Rangers, losers of six straight coming into Monday, are giving every other contender in the AL a chance to catch them. Cleveland, with a strong showing here and an assist from Tampa Bay, could move into a playoff spot quickly. On the other hand, if the Royals can muster a sweep, that would dramatically help their postseason chances.
• How will the young pitchers do? They're not facing each other, but both the Royals and Indians are putting their young guns on the mound. Kansas City is giving top pitching prospect Yordano Ventura his first career start on Tuesday, subbing for the injured Danny Duffy. Ventura is 22 and can hit 100 mph on the radar gun. The Indians, meanwhile, call Danny Salazar to the mound Wednesday. He's 23 and made his MLB debut in July. This will be his ninth start. He can hit 99 mph.
• How much momentum will the Indians have? After these two teams finished a series in Cleveland last week, the Indians swept the White Sox in four games, while the Royals lost two of three in Detroit. Both teams traveled into Kansas City, but the Indians finished their Sunday game late after a four-hour rain delay. Momentum vs. a long day on Sunday? We'll see.