Indians-Royals Preview

The Associated Press

Extending their winning streak would put the Cleveland Indians in playoff position.

The Kansas City Royals have a lot more work to do.

Nick Swisher and the Indians attempt to grab the AL's second wild-card spot Monday night and further damage the Royals' chances in the opener of a three-game series with major postseason implications.

Cleveland (81-68) is one-half game behind Tampa Bay and Texas in the wild-card race with 13 to play. A victory Monday will assure the Indians of taking the second position since the Rays are hosting the Rangers for a four-game series.

They continued their surge towards their first playoff berth since 2007, winning 7-1 to complete a four-game series sweep of the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.

"The way things are kind of going down the stretch, you've got to step your game up in situations like this," Swisher said. "Seasons like this don't come around very often. We have a chance to make it into the playoffs and that's what we're doing."

Swisher is making a major impact, hitting .324 with five homers and 11 RBIs in the past nine games, with Cleveland winning seven. He came up big again Sunday, homering from both sides of the plate for the 13th time to tie the major league record also held by former New York Yankees teammate Mark Teixeira.

"It's pretty cool having a major league record for something," Swisher said. "I don't care what it's for. Just to have that especially to share that with my boy Mark Teixeira who I love dearly, it's just crazy."

Swisher is 2 for 22 with seven strikeouts over his last six meetings against the Royals (78-71), including 1 for 7 in two games last week when the Indians dropped two of three at home to Kansas City.

One of those defeats - 6-2 in the series finale Wednesday - came against Royals starter James Shields (11-9, 3.38 ERA), who allowed two runs and four hits in eight innings. The right-hander is 5-1 with a 3.45 ERA over his last seven starts, but he owns a 1.24 ERA while limiting opponents to .167 at the plate during those victories.

Beating the Indians again would also help the Royals cut into the 3 1/2-game gap on Tampa Bay and Texas in the crowded wild-card chase. However, they also have Baltimore and the New York Yankees one game ahead of them.

"The excitement is there," Shields told the team's official website. "We're exactly where we wanted to be at the end of the season. We would like to have the lead in the division, but it is what it is. We're here now, and we're playing and we're fighting for a playoff spot."

Kansas City, though, failed to gain ground in the playoff race, losing two of three at AL Central-leading Detroit after falling 3-2 on Sunday.

Alex Gordon hit a solo homer for one of his two hits in the series finale, and he's batting .349 with four homers, seven RBIs and 10 runs during a 10-game hitting streak. That includes hitting two homers among his four hits versus the Indians last week while adding five runs and three RBIs.

Gordon is 8 for 23 (.348) with two homers and six RBIs in six season meetings at Kauffman Stadium. He's doubled and homered on four hits this year versus scheduled starter Scott Kazmir.

Kazmir (8-8, 4.24) is 1-4 with a 5.59 ERA in six starts after allowing four runs and a homer to Gordon in four innings opposite Shields on Wednesday.

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