The Cleveland Indians’ season will continue when the playoffs begin next week, but after this week’s series with the Seattle Mariners, the AL Central champions must feel like they’ve played plenty of extra baseball already.
Cleveland continues its pursuit of the league’s best record Thursday night when they play the finale of a four-game set in three days at Seattle.
Cleveland (94-64) is tied with AL East-leading Boston for the best record. Whichever club finishes with the top record - in addition to earning home-field advantage throughout the postseason - will get to choose its first-round playoff schedule and align its starting rotation accordingly.
That may not be Cleveland’s biggest pitching concern as it approaches postseason play. On Wednesday, closer Joe Borowski gave up a home run and blew a save for the second consecutive night to allow a game to go into extra innings.
Adrian Beltre homered off Borowski in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s series opener, a game the Indians went on to win 4-3 in 12 innings. After Cleveland cruised to a 12-4 victory in the first game of a doubleheader Wednesday, Borowski blew another save in the nightcap by allowing a game-tying, ninth-inning homer to rookie pinch-hitter Jeff Clement.
“The only thing I know about Joe Borowski is how tough he is,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “I know he’s not a happy camper right now, nobody is, but I know he’s going to be there for us again tomorrow.”
Seattle (84-74) won the game 3-2 in the bottom of the 10th after Mike Morse’s single off Aaron Fultz scored pinch runner Rob Johnson. For the Indians, the loss snapped a three-game winning streak and prevented them from moving a full game ahead of the Red Sox.
Cleveland will send Paul Byrd (15-7, 4.55 ERA) to the mound as it tries to get back on the winning track in the series finale. Byrd is 4-1 with a 1.60 ERA in five career starts at Safeco Field, although he hasn’t pitched there since 2005.
He is 6-2 with a 3.14 ERA in nine starts overall versus Seattle, including an outing June 11 at Jacobs Field in which he gave up seven runs and 11 hits - three homers - in four innings but did not receive a decision in Cleveland’s 8-7 defeat.
Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez had two of the home runs in that contest, and is 11-for-20 (.550) in his career versus Byrd with the two homers, a double and a triple.
The right-hander has struggled in his last four starts, going 1-2 with a 7.15 ERA and a .340 opponent batting average. Against Oakland on Saturday, Byrd gave up six runs and nine hits in 4 1-3 innings of Cleveland’s 9-3 loss.
He will be opposed by Cha Seung Baek (3-3, 5.48), who is making his first major league start since a 9-4 loss at Houston on June 16. The Korean-born right-hander landed on the disabled list with elbow inflammation after that outing, but has pitched three scoreless innings of relief over two appearances since his Sept. 17 activation.
Baek is 0-2 with a 5.94 ERA in three career starts versus the Indians, two of which came this year in Cleveland.
Wednesday night’s victory ended a three-game skid for the Mariners, who are already assured of finishing with their first winning record since 2003. Seattle concludes its season with three home games this weekend against Texas.
The Indians will travel to Kansas City to wrap up their regular-season schedule with a three-game set versus the last-place Royals.