Cleveland seemed to have an ominous first week of the season, with a freakish snowstorm postponing a series with the Seattle Mariners.
When the temperature cools back down in October, though, the Indians will still be playing.
After clinching their first AL Central title in six years, the Indians set their sights on securing home-field throughout the playoffs as they open a four-game set with the Mariners on Tuesday night.
Cleveland clinched its first division title since 2001 with a 6-2 win over Oakland on Sunday. The Indians (92-63) were overlooked as a contender in a tough division, and their first week certainly didn’t make matters easier. Cleveland’s home opener against Seattle (83-72) was postponed by snow, as was the rest of that four-game series from April 6-9.
Now, the Indians are in a race for baseball’s best record after finishing in fourth place and 18 games out of first last year.
“I think to the young kids, being their first time through this, it lets them know how special this team really is,” Indians center fielder Kenny Lofton said. “When I got the chance to come back to Cleveland, I knew this team had a chance, but I don’t think some of the guys here really understood how good they were.”
After moving into first place on Aug. 15, Cleveland stayed there by going 27-9 to pull away from defending AL champion Detroit.
Rookie second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera has been a spark for the Indians over that stretch after Josh Barfield was benched. Cabrera has a hit in 17 of his last 20 games, and the Indians are 21-5 since he took over the No. 2 spot in the batting order.
Cabrera has helped a Cleveland lineup that’s averaging 5.0 runs in its last 11 games, and the Indians may need a big day at the plate Tuesday with struggling rookie Aaron Laffey (3-2, 5.35 ERA) taking the mound. The 22-year-old left-hander has given up at least four runs in four of his seven starts.
This will be Laffey’s first start since Sept. 16, when he gave up four runs and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 4-3 loss to Kansas City.
Laffey faced the Mariners on Aug. 30, allowing four runs and seven hits in 6 1-3 innings as the Indians won 6-5. It was his first career appearance against Seattle.
The left-hander can end the Mariners’ playoff hopes, as Seattle will be eliminated with a loss or a New York win.
Seattle had won five of six before a 7-4 defeat to the Angels on Sunday, as Los Angeles clinched the AL West title.
The Mariners had allowed a total of two runs in their previous two games. They’ll now give the ball to Felix Hernandez (13-7, 4.07 ERA), who has won three straight decisions and is 7-1 with a 4.14 ERA in his last 11 starts.
The right-hander gave up four runs - three earned - and seven hits in five innings to beat Oakland 9-5 on Wednesday.
This will be Hernandez’s first appearance against the Indians this season. He’s 0-1 with a 5.06 ERA in two starts against them.
Seattle shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt’s status for Tuesday’s game is uncertain after he sat out Sunday because of discomfort in his right elbow.
“It’s still real sore,” Mariners manager John McLaren told the team’s official Web site. “He … felt something there in his elbow area and it’s still sore.”
Seattle and Cleveland have been making up their postponed April games sporadically throughout the season. The Indians have won two of three games against the Mariners, and the last contest of the teams’ initial series will be made up as part of a doubleheader Wednesday.