They’ll need a little bit of help, but the Cleveland Indians could clinch their first AL Central title in six years Saturday night when they continue a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics.
The Indians (91-62) beat Oakland 4-3 on Friday to lower their magic number to win the division to two. Fausto Carmona pitched six solid innings while Ryan Garko and Jhonny Peralta hit back-to-back home runs in the sixth inning in Cleveland’s fourth straight win.
Cleveland, which is 21-5 since Aug. 25, remained 7 1/2 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers, who won 5-4 over Kansas City on Friday. With a win on Saturday and a loss by the Tigers to the Royals, the Indians would capture the division title for the first time since 2001.
“It’s real exciting,” Garko said. “The best part is we’ve been able to stop watching the scoreboard.”
Cleveland will turn to Paul Byrd (15-6, 4.36 ERA), who is 5-1 with a 3.83 ERA over his last seven outings, to make Saturday’s start. Byrd pitched 7 1-3 innings on Monday against the Tigers, allowing five runs—four earned—and 10 hits in the 6-5, 11-inning win.
“You talk about a warrior performance,” manager Eric Wedge told the Indians’ official Web site. “That’s what you saw from (Byrd).”
The right-hander is 3-4 with a 5.20 ERA in 10 career starts against the Athletics. He won by allowing three runs and 10 hits in seven innings against them in a 4-3 victory June 28.
Dan Haren (14-8, 3.12) will take the mound for Oakland (74-81), trying to end his personal five-game winless streak. Haren was 10-3 with a 2.30 ERA before the All-Star break, but since has gone 4-5 with a 4.43 ERA. He has lost four straight decisions since winning against Toronto Aug. 21.
Haren pitched eight innings on Monday against the Seattle Mariners, giving up four runs - three earned - and 10 hits in the 4-0 loss. The right-hander struck out six and walked only one, but wasn’t backed by any run support for the second time in three starts.
“He’s throwing well enough to win a lot of these games,” manager Bob Geren said. “He’s been our ace all year and he’s finishing strong. … His confidence has been high all year and it should be.”
Haren is 1-2 with a 5.90 ERA in five career starts against the Indians. He yielded three runs and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings against them on June 26, but did not factor in the 8-5 loss.
Oakland has lost five straight and 17 of 26. It hasn’t dropped six straight since dropping nine in a row from July 6-17.
The A’s are assured of a losing record for the first time since 1998 when they finished 74-88. Jack Cust hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning on Friday, and is hitting .419 (13-for-31) with six homers and 17 RBIs in eight games against the Indians this year.