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Series preview: Cleveland Indians vs. Kansas City Royals

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In an alternate universe, this series matters.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

While the Cleveland Indians are looking to clinch their first American League Central division win since 2007, the luster of the Kansas City Royals' 2015 World Series win is beginning to fade.

For a time in late August, these Royals looked like the World Series winning team, surging enough to scare the second place Detroit Tigers. However, a recent streak of ho-hum games means their season is all but over. They sit 9.5 games back in the AL Central and 5.0 games back in the Wild Card race with less than a month left in the season.

On the Indians side of things, they still have a magic number of seven, meaning a clinch is still a few days away, at best. the Tigers face the Minnesota Twins in their next season, so they could grab a few wins there, in theory. At the very least, the Tigers could make the final series between them and the Indians a little more interesting next week.

Weather should not be a factor in this series with sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s-80s.

Pitching matchups

Tuesday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Josh Tomlin (RHP) vs. Edinson Volquez (RHP)

Let's just say it's been a rough year for Edinson Volquez. He is far from the only reason the Royals find themselves on the brink of elimination, but he certainly has not helped. His 5.40 ERA is the highest since 2013, while his 4.45 FIP is the highest since 2011. His biggest weakness this season has been home runs -- Volquez is allowing 1.08 home runs per nine innings with a 13.0 percent home run to foul ball ratio.

Volquez's last start was one of his worst of the season -- a 3.1-inning loss to the Oakland Athletics in which he allowed eight runs and walked four batters.

Opposing Volquez will be Josh Tomlin, making his second start since being inserted back into the starting rotation. Depending on how the playoffs shake out, Tomlin could be making multiple starts on the way to the World Series. If it comes to that, we will hopefully see the Tomlin who held the Chicago White Sox to a lone run off of four hits last week, and not the one that allowed four or more runs in five of his six August starts.

Wednesday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Corey Kluber (RHP) vs. Ian Kennedy (RHP)

Ian Kennedy was the Royals' biggest signing of the offseason, having inked a five-year, $70 million to join the World Champions. Reactions to the 31-year-old's signing were not positive at first, but lately, he has looked like a tremendous bargain for the Royals:

When the Royals signed Ian Kennedy last winter to a five-year, $70 million deal, it was panned quite a bit by writers. Fans were not much more hospitable. Kennedy was coming off an underwhelming ERA the last few years in San Diego, moving to a more difficult ballpark, in a more difficult league, going into his 30s.

But a funny thing happened over the first year of the deal, at least - it is all kind of working. Kennedy, long known as a fly-ball pitcher, is pitching well in the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium. In fact, he has been one of the best bargains out of the free agent starting pitching class of last winter.

Max Rieper's post over on Royals Review was written a month ago, but the sentiment about Kennedy still holds true even with a few more starts under his belt. His past tendencies to allow home runs, and have foul balls turn into home runs, have gone down since joining the Royals. As Max also noted, Kennedy is much better in spacious Kauffman Stadium, where opponents have a slugging percentage a full 0.40 lower than on the road. Luckily, he will not have that advantage while facing the Indians lineup this time.

Sources are confirming that Corey Kluber is still really really good.

Thursday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Mike Clevinger (RHP) vs. Jason Vargas (LHP)

Maybe one reason the Royals were willing to take on Ian Kennedy, a pitching who traditionally has issues with home runs, is because they did it successfully two seasons ago with Jason Vargas. Similar to Kennedy, Vargas gives up a lot of home runs -- 1.11 per nine innings in his career. His 2014 home run rate dropped considerably to 0.91 (down from 1.45 in 2012 with the Seattle Mariners and 1.02 in 2013 with the Los Angeles Angels), and his ERA hit a new low, as a result.

Vargas returned to giving up more than a home run per game in 2015, finishing with a 3.98 ERA and a 4.30 FIP. This will be just Vargas' second start of 2016. Vargas suffered a sprained UCL last July, which required Tommy John surgery to repair. In his first start of the season, September 17 against the White Sox, Vargas pitched three innings, allowing two hits and one earned run.

Don't look now, but Mike Clevinger is suddenly kind of consistent. While the Tribe's young rookie pitcher looked shaky at times in his first few months of the season -- bouncing around between the starting rotation, the bullpen, and Triple-A -- Clevinger now has two straight starts in which he has lasted four innings and allowed just one run. Combined, over his last two starts, he has eight strikeouts to three walks. Clevinger's stuff has always been there, his control is slowly getting there, and it's only a matter of time before the Indians can longer deny him a permanent spot in the rotation.

Upcoming schedule

Following this game against the Royals, the Indians will wrap up their homestand against the Chicago White Sox before hitting the road against the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals.

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Kansas City Royals roster

Position players

The Royals offense is... well it's rough. Kendrys Morales leads the team in wRC+ at 111, but he is only slashing .262/.329/.473. The power with 29 home runs is nice, but the Royals have major issues getting on base to make the power really effective. Of batters with more than 100 PA this season, Lorenzo Cain leads Kansas City with a .339 on-base percentage with Eric Hosmer not far behind at .335.

In typical Ned Yost fashion, the Royals skipper has done his best to run Salvador Perez into the ground. Perez has 130 games under his belt at catcher this season, the fourth-most among qualified catchers.

Starting pitchers

Danny Duffy leads all starting pitchers with a 3.2 FanGraphs WAR and a 3.18 ERA, then it all kinds of falls off the rails. Edinson Volquez and Ian Kennedy are the next closest with a 1.6 fWAR. The Royals do not have many good starting pitchers, but the Indians will happen to face two of their "best."

Bullpen

The real strength of the Royals is, of course, their bullpen. Wade Davis missed five weeks of the season with a forearm strain, but they have performed well in his absence. Since his return, Davis has allowed three runs in 4.2 innings with 10 strikeouts to one walk.