It was hard for them to get traction in the first month and a half of the season because they spent a lot of time playing against baseball's upper crust — the Angels, Cubs, Mariners, Astros and Yankees. But on Monday they opened a part of the schedule where they'll play 23 of 25 games in the Central.
So far the results look promising.
The Indians completed a three-game sweep of the White Sox on Wednesday with a 9-1 victory at Progressive Field. Corey Kluber pitched six scoreless innings, while Jose Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion homered to beat the young and error-prone White Sox.
The win was the Indians fifth straight and made them 13-5 in the Central. Last year they won the division by going 50-26 in the Central.
Kluber (8-2, 2.02) struck out 10 and didn't walk a batter. He has allowed two runs in 19 1/3 innings over his last three starts. The two-time Cy Young winner has not walked a batter in his last four starts covering 26 1/3 innings.
"There's a lot of good things about no walks," Kluber said.
This season Kluber is 4-0 against the AL Central, allowing one earned run in 27 1/3 innings (0.33 ERA). Kluber is 10-0 in his last 10 decisions against divisional foes going back to June 9, 2017.
The Indians ended Reynaldo Lopez's start quickly. They scored two runs in the first inning as Greg Allen scored on a wild pitch and Melky Cabrera delivered Michael Brantley on a sacrifice fly. Brantley reached base on a single to extend his hitting streak to 19 games.
They made it 7-0 in the third with five runs on six hits. Cabrera doubled home two runs to give him three RBI for the game. Encarnacion, Yan Gomes and Erik Gonzalez drove in the other three runs.
Gonzalez, starting at shortstop for Francisco Lindor, knocked Lopez (1-4, 3.80) out of the game with his RBI single. Lopez allowed seven runs on eight hits in just 2 2/3 innings.
Ramirez and Encarnacion started the fourth with home runs. Both balls landed in the right field seats to make it 9-0. Ramirez's homer, his second in as many games and 10th this month, gave him 17 for the season and moved him into a tie for second place in the AL with Boston's Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.
Encarnacion's homer gave him 12 for the season and seven in May.
The big lead allowed manager Terry Francona to get Kluber out of the game earlier than usual. He entered the game ranked second in the AL in innings pitched.
"He's pitched so many games where you look up and it's 0-0 in the fifth," said Franocona. "To give him a cushion, he certainly knows what to do with it. And it was nice where we were able to get him out of there after six and he didn't have to grind through it because we rely on him so much.
"He's going to get an extra day's rest this time through the rotation so it workedd out really well."
Kluber, whose eight wins are the most in the league, may have relaxed a bit, but not much.
"I think you train yourself, you teach yourself, that you take each pitch or each hitter like the game is tied," said Kluber. "Through experience, I think every pitcher will tell you that as soon as you let your guard down, it will bite you in the rear."
The Indians finished with 13 hits. In the sweep they outscored Chicago, 25-10, while recording 40 hits.
"It's just nice to have a game like today where you can breath because they've been grinding," said Francona. "We've got a big series coming up (against the Twins), but just to be able to have some room where if somebody makes a mistake — just like Ben (Taylor) gives up a homer in the ninth — it doesn't cost you a game."
As for diving into the AL Central, Francona doesn't see it as a comfort zone.
"I don't know about comfort," said Francona. "It's baseball. There's usually more familiarity (in your own division). But we hadn't seen the White Sox this year and they have a lot of young guys."
"I would imagine I've probably faced the guys on the Astros more than I've faced this lineup, " he said. "They have a lot of younger guys over there.
"It can work both ways. If you face guys a lot, they have a read on you as much as you have a read on them."
After the Indians completed the sweep on Wednesday, the White Sox held a team meeting that lasted about 25 minutes.
What it means
Kluber became the first pitcher in MLB history with four-plus wins, 40-plus strikeouts and no more than one walk in a calendar month. He made six starts in May. He also has allowed three runs or fewer in 24 straight starts, the longest streak by an AL pitcher since the DH was introduced 45 years ago in 1973.
Brantley, in his 19-game hitting streak, is hitting .366 (30-for-82) with six homers, 19 RBI and 20 runs.
Lopez threw 73 pitches, 52 (71 percent) for strikes. Kluber threw 90 pitches, 61 (68 percent) for strikes.
Thanks for coming
The White Sox and Indians drew 17, 930 fans to Progressive Field on Wednesday afternoon. First pitch was at 1:10 p.m. with a temperature of 84 degrees.
The Indians open a four-game series against the Twins on Thursday night at Target Field. Prospect Shane Bieber will make his big-league debut for the Indians against Jake Odorizzi (3-2, 3.34). The game starts at 8:10 p.m. and SportsTime Ohio and WMMS/FM 100.7 will carry the game.