CLEVELAND -- Despite losing the final game of the first half of the regular season to the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field last Sunday night, the Cleveland Indians maintained a multi-game lead over the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals.
Heading into tonight’s second-half opener against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum, the Indians maintain a 2.5-game lead over the Twins and three-game edge over the Royals in the American League Central Division standings.
In order to build onto that advantage and clinch the Central Division Championship for the second consecutive year, here are four things the Indians will need over the second half of the regular season.
CONSISTENCY FROM CARRASCO
Indians starter Carlos Carrasco had some inconsistency issues throughout the month of June, but over his last two starts before the break for the 2017 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, he was the top-of-the-rotation pitcher the team needed him to be.
In his final start of the first half, Carrasco struck out 11 hitters, walked only one and found a way to work around nine hits, which helped the Indians pull out an 11-2 victory over the Tigers, one of their Central Division foes, in front of the home fans at Progressive Field.
Carrasco made a little bit of history in his final start of the first half.
After the Indians failed to score in the bottom of the fourth inning despite having the bases loaded and nobody out, Carrasco calmly trotted out to the mound and struck out all three Tigers hitters on just nine pitches for only the second “Immaculate Inning” in club history.
IMPROVEMENT FROM LINDOR
Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor was named an American League All-Star for the second consecutive season, but at times, the 2017 regular season has been a struggle for the reigning AL Gold Glove Award winner.
Through 85 games this season for the reigning AL champions, Lindor had 88 hits, including 41 for extra bases (25 doubles, two triples, 14 home runs), in 349 at-bats with 49 runs scored, 43 driven in and 30 walks against 52 strikeouts.
The .252 batting average, .312 on-base percentage and .768 on-base-plus-slugging percentage are one pace to be the lowest of his three-year career with the Indians.
KLUBER AT HIS BEST
Since returning from the disabled list after a month of dealing with back issues, Kluber has regained the type of form that made him an American League Cy Young Award finalist last year and an All-Star in each of the past two seasons.
In a tough-luck 1-0 loss to the San Diego Padres at Progressive Field on July 4, Kluber struck out 10 hitters, and in doing so, set a new Indians record for the most consecutive 10-plus strikeout performances (five).
Over 14 starts this season, Kluber has struck out 123 hitters against just 24 walks with 68 hits and 29 earned runs allowed over 93.1 innings of work. Despite missing several starts because of the back issues, Kluber has a 7-3 record and 2.80 earned run average, which is the lowest of any Indians starting pitcher.
BRANTLEY TO STAY HEALTHY
Prior to the season-opener against the Texas Rangers back in April, it had been nearly a year to the day that Brantley last played at the Major League level because of shoulder issues, but the All-Star outfielder has found his rhythm again.
Healthy for the first time in nearly three years after the injury-shortened seasons, Brantley returned to his All-Star form and smacked 69 hits in 232 at-bats (.297 batting average) with 15 doubles, five home runs, 31 runs batted in, 27 runs scored, 22 walks against 38 strikeouts and eight stolen bases over the first half of the season.
Now a two-time MLB All-Star, Brantley ranks in the Indians’ top 10 in nearly every offensive statistical category.