The Cleveland Indians had just three winning streaks of at least five games last season. They’re already in position to post their second surge of that length in 2011.
Looking for their best start in 23 years, the AL Central-leading Indians also go for their fifth straight win over the Kansas City Royals as the surprising top two teams in the division meet Tuesday night.
The Indians, who finished two games ahead of last-place Kansas City last season at 69-93, won a season-best seven straight Sept. 24-Oct. 1. Cleveland also had a 5-0 stretch and a six-game winning streak during an otherwise lackluster 2010.
Manager Manny Acta’s club is in a much better spot this season, sporting an AL-best 12-4 record and leading the second-place Royals (10-6) by two games following a 7-3, 10-inning win Monday to open this series and a seven-game trip. The Indians, winners of 12 of 14 - including an eight-game run April 3-11 - need a victory for their best start since opening 14-3 in 1988.
While Cleveland is batting .326 and averaging 6.8 runs during its winning streak, its surge to the top of the standings is largely thanks to excellent starting pitching. Since allowing 17 combined runs in back-to-back losses to the Chicago White Sox to open the season, Indians starters are 9-1 with a 2.03 ERA. Only one starter (Mitch Talbot(notes) on April 6) during that stretch has pitched fewer than six innings, and none has surrendered more than three runs.
Talbot had been scheduled to start this contest, but landed on the disabled list Sunday with a right elbow strain that could sideline him three to four weeks. That gives Jeanmar Gomez(notes) an opportunity to not only make his season debut, but also to show that he deserves a longer stay in the rotation. The 23-year-old right-hander, 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in 12 2-3 innings at Triple-A Columbus, went 4-5 with a 4.68 ERA in 11 starts for Cleveland last season.
“It always helps to have experience,” Acta told the Indians’ official website. “But I wish he comes up and throws like he did last year when he had no experience …”
Gomez went 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA in three starts against Kansas City last season.
The Royals will counter with Bruce Chen(notes) (2-0, 2.37) as they try to avoid a season-high third straight loss. Chen threw eight innings of one-run ball Thursday in a rain-shortened 5-1 victory over Seattle to win his sixth consecutive decision. It was the veteran left-hander’s fourth career complete game and second in his last four starts.
“He was running it in on some of the right-handers and dropping his breaking stuff in to the lefties,” said Mariners manager Eric Wedge. “He pitched a good ballgame.”
Chen is 2-2 with a 4.94 ERA in five starts against Cleveland.
He should be careful pitching to Indians leadoff hitter Grady Sizemore(notes), who is 5 for 9 with two doubles, a homer and two RBIs in the last two games - his first action since knee surgery last May. Sizemore is 4 for 6 with a homer off Chen.
Royals left fielder Alex Gordon(notes) had an RBI single Monday and is batting .400 (22 for 55) with one homer and 12 RBIs during a 12-game hitting streak. He has one hit in seven at-bats against Gomez.
Cleveland has won nine of 12 against Kansas City.