|Indians, Red Sox begin four-game series, potential playoff preview|
BOSTON -- The Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox are both headed for the postseason for the third straight year and could wind up facing each other for the second time in those three seasons.
First, though, there is the rest of the regular season.
On Monday night, the Indians send Corey Kluber to the mound against Rick Porcello in the opener of a four-game series at Fenway Park -- the first of seven games between the teams the rest of the way.
In 2016, the Indians swept the Red Sox in an American League Division Series en route to almost winning the franchise's first World Series since 1948.
Both teams went out in the ALDS last season, the Red Sox to the eventual champion Houston Astros and the Indians to the New York Yankees -- after Cleveland won the first two games of the series at home.
With Boston's Chris Sale again hitting the 10-day disabled list with slight left shoulder inflammation, Kluber (15-6) can continue his quest for a third Cy Young Award and his second in a row. Both he and teammate Hector Carrasco are 15-6 -- and Carrasco goes in the third game of the series.
The Indians, runaway leaders in the weak AL Central, have won seven of their last eight after completing their series against the Baltimore Orioles with an 8-0 victory on Sunday. Baltimore snapped Cleveland's six-game winning streak Saturday, but the Indians bounced back Sunday as Mike Clevinger pitched six shutout innings and Melky Cabrera hit a grand slam.
Kluber, who is 3-0 with a 1.78 ERA in his last four starts, is just 2-4 with a 4.45 ERA lifetime against the Red Sox and 1-1 with a 3.96 ERA in four starts at Fenway. But he also pitched seven shutout innings and won the opener of the 2016 playoff series against Boston.
Despite a loss Sunday, when the Red Sox were shut out for the first time since July 21 (fifth time this season), they remain on fire. They won two of three from the Tampa Bay Rays and sit at 51 games above .500 (88-37) -- 9 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees atop the AL East.
"They're a professional baseball team too," Boston's Mookie Betts said. "It was just one of those days.
"That's the most important thing to win each series."
Porcello, 15-5 with a 4.04 ERA, is 7-2 in his last 10 starts. He is also 10-4 with a 3.35 ERA in 22 career starts against the Indians.
The current Cleveland roster is hitting a cumulative .333 (72-for-216) with six homers and 30 RBIs lifetime against Porcello. Cabrera is 15-for-28 (.536), Rajai Davis 3-for-8 (.375), Yonder Alonso 3-for-9 (.333), Edwin Encarnacion 13-for-40 (.325 but on the disabled list) with three homers and Jason Kipnis 10-for-31 (.323) with a home run.
The current Red Sox don't have those kinds of numbers against Kluber. J.D. Martinez has two homers and is 8-for-28 (.286), but Xander Bogaerts is 1-for-14 (.071), Eduardo Nunez 1-for-10 (.100), Ian Kinsler 9-for-49 (.184), Mitch Moreland 2-for-10 (.200) and Jackie Bradley Jr. 3-for-13 (.231).
The Indians got some good news Sunday when it was announced that Leonys Martin, who battled a life-threatening bacterial infection, was released from Cleveland Clinic.
General manager Chris Antonetti said it was "beyond a relief," and added, "He will actually be released from the hospital today, which is incredibly good news," Antonetti said. "To think about the progress he's made over the past week, it's been nothing short of amazing. We don't have a lot of additional details about what the plan will look like from here other than he'll have a series of follow-up checks this week with doctors, just to continue to monitor his health."
In addition to Martin, the Indians are also missing Encarnacion, on the disabled list with hand and biceps injuries. The hope is he can start taking batting practice while the team is in Boston but will apparently not be ready to be activated by Tuesday, his first day of eligibility.
Sunday marked the 13th shutout by Indians pitchers this season, tops in the AL. Cleveland and the Pittsburgh Pirates (also 13) trail only the Chicago Cubs (14) for the most shutouts in the majors.