With the majors’ best record over the past month, the Cleveland Indians are on the verge of clinching their first AL Central title in six years. On Friday, the Indians look to right-handed ace Fausto Carmona to continue his strong pitching as they try to draw closer to the division crown.
Carmona (17-8, 3.07 ERA) takes the mound when Cleveland begins a three-game set with the Oakland Athletics at Jacobs Field.
The Indians (90-62) have gone 22-6 since Aug. 22 - 11-2 at home - to increase their lead to 7 1-2 games over Detroit, which Cleveland completed a three-game sweep of Wednesday. That dropped the Indians’ magic number to clinch their first Central title since 2001 to three.
Carmona is one of the biggest reasons Cleveland is about to secure a trip to the postseason, teaming with left-hander C.C. Sabathia to anchor a strong starting rotation. Carmona, who struggled in a relief role last season, is likely to receive strong consideration for the Cy Young Award.
“I’m not thinking about that,” Carmona said through interpreter Luis Rivera, Cleveland’s first-base coach. “I’m only thinking about my next start and giving my team a chance to win the game.”
The right-hander didn’t pitch like a Cy Young candidate in his last outing against the Athletics (74-80), allowing eight runs and seven hits before leaving with none out in the second inning of a 13-7 home loss June 27. The start was his worst of the season and dropped him to 1-1 with a 7.31 ERA in four career appearances - three starts - against Oakland.
Carmona has since moved into the AL ERA lead by going 3-0 with a 1.21 ERA over his last three starts. Since the Indians’ division lead over Detroit dropped to a half-game when Carmona lost Aug. 21 at Comerica Park, Cleveland has won his last five outings.
Carmona is 7-4 with a 2.19 ERA in 13 starts since the All-Star break.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” manager Eric Wedge told the Indians’ official Web site. “It’s fun to watch him out there and keep getting better.”
While Carmona’s worst start of the season came against the A’s, he may be coming off his best outing of the year. He allowed three hits and struck out nine in eight innings of a 6-0 home win over Kansas City on Saturday, retiring his final 16 batters.
“I was in a groove and feeling,” Carmona said. “I had command of all my pitches.”
The Indians’ 4-2 victory over the Tigers on Wednesday improved them to 5-1 on their homestand, as Sabathia pitched seven strong innings.
“You can never anticipate something like this happening,” Wedge said of the sweep. “We wanted to come in, play good baseball and try to win the series. Anything more than that is a bonus.”
Wedge’s team will try to keep its run going when it faces Joe Blanton (14-9, 3.78) on Friday. The right-hander has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball during the past six weeks, going 6-1 with a 3.66 ERA in nine starts since Aug. 4 and posting a 2.86 ERA while winning each of his last three outings.
Blanton has won four consecutive starts once before, from June 15-29, 2005. He’s 1-2 with a 4.26 ERA in four starts against the Indians.
The A’s are trying to avoid losing five straight for the first time since Aug. 24-28. They fell 9-5 to Seattle on Wednesday as the Mariners completed their first three-game sweep in Oakland since 2001.
The Indians’ Ryan Garko has hit .395 (15-for-38) in nine career games against the A’s, while Oakland’s Jack Cust is batting .444 (12-for-27) with five homers and 15 RBIs in seven games against Cleveland.
The Indians lead the season series with the A’s 4-3, including 3-1 at Jacobs Field.