Indians face Brewers with eye on AL Central standings

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The Cleveland Indians aim to create some breathing room in the top-heavy American League Central on Friday when they begin a three-game series against the visiting Milwaukee Brewers.

The Indians (23-14), who have both the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins within a game-and-a-half of their division lead entering Thursday, have won two in a row and 13 of their last 18 contests heading into the opener of their seven-game homestand. Cleveland, however, has won just three of its last eight outings at Progressive Field and sports a 9-7 mark at home this season.

Milwaukee (17-19), in turn, has won four of its last six contests heading into the opener of a five-game road trip. Friday’s game continues a stretch of seven straight interleague contests for the Brewers.

Ass for the Indians, Tyler Naquin recorded his second career two-homer performance on Wednesday after belting a two-run shot in the second inning and a three-run blast in the ninth in the Indians’ 5-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

“He was unbelievable. His swing is the best I’ve seen it,” Indians interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said of Naquin, who has yet to go deep in Cleveland this season.

“He did the work this offseason. He kind of restructured his swing a little bit — he’s been more efficient with his swing. Pretty good.”

Franmil Reyes is sizzling at the plate, hitting .394 (39-for-99) with eight homers and 23 RBIs over his last 26 games. Francisco Lindor has done quite well in own right, batting .395 (15-for-38) with two homers and four RBIs during his nine-game hitting streak.

Naquin, Reyes, Lindor and the Indians look to remain hot when they face Milwaukee right-hander Corbin Burnes (1-0, 2.78 ERA), who will bid to repeat his stellar performance from last Friday when he faces Cleveland for the first time in the series opener.

Burnes, 25, struck out a career-high 10 batters and scattered three hits over six scoreless innings in a 9-1 win over Pittsburgh.

Should Burnes and his fellow pitchers perform well, the ball likely will be turned over to Josh Hader. The hard-throwing left-hander posted his record-setting 12th consecutive hitless appearance to begin the season to secure Milwaukee’s 8-5 win over Detroit on Wednesday night.

“I definitely know about it,” Hader said. “Obviously a lot of guys talk about it — especially you guys. But it’s something that, when I’m up on the mound, my job is to get outs. If they get a hit, they get a hit.”

Keston Hiura enters the series opener with homers in two of his last three games to boost his season total to nine, matching former National League MVP Christian Yelich for the team lead.

Yelich, however, has more pressing concerns on his plate.

“A 6-4 homestand is not terrible. There were probably moments when it didn’t feel like that but overall, not a terrible homestand,” Yelich said. “We’re still right there in it and have a big road trip coming up.”

A victory on Friday would give Craig Counsell sole possession of third place on the franchise’s all-time list for wins by a manager at 423.

Milwaukee will try to do that at the expense of Cleveland right-hander Carlos Carrasco (2-3, 3.75), who scattered two hits and struck out six in six scoreless innings of a 2-1 victory at St. Louis on Saturday.

Carrasco, 33, has won both of his career starts versus the Brewers and owns a 1.69 ERA and 0.94 WHIP while limiting the opposition to a .323 batting average.

–Field Level Media

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