With Tampa Bay's win over Texas on Monday night, the Indians had an opportunity to gain a hold of one of the two coveted American League Wild Card positions. The Royals made sure that didn't happen.
Kansas City won a 7-1 decision in the first of three games in a crucial three-game set between AL Central rivals at Kauffman Stadium. The Indians remained a half-game out of the second Wild Card spot entering Tuesday night's middle game.
Meanwhile, the Orioles are two back, with the Royals and Yankees each trailing by 2 1/2 games.
In seeking their fourth straight win over the Tribe, the Royals on Tuesday will send prized prospect Yordano Ventura to the mound for his Major League debut. Cleveland is set to counter with right-hander Corey Kluber, who is 9-5 with a 3.55 ERA across 23 outings (21 starts).
Ventura, a right-hander who is ranked as Kansas City's No. 2 prospect by MLB.com, received the nod after left-hander Danny Duffy sustained a mild flexor strain in his pitching arm. Between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha, Ventura is a combined 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 26 games (25 starts).
"I think we're all excited to see Ventura pitch," manager Ned Yost said. "I've had my eye on this guy like we all have for the last two or three years watching him come up in the system and I really made it a point at Spring Training to be on the Minor League fields when he was throwing batting practice or even throwing a side."
Ventura is tasked with neutralizing a Cleveland lineup that, before scoring just once on Monday, manufactured 32 runs during a four-game road sweep of the White Sox this past weekend.
Nick Swisher and Asdrubal Cabrera, both of whom have had disappointing years offensively, are producing more at the plate in the final stretch. Over their last 10 games, each has five home runs and 11 RBIs. Swisher is hitting .333 (13-for-39), while Cabrera -- who doubled on Monday -- is batting .242 (8-for-33).
"For us to get where we wanted to, we know we needed them," Tribe manager Terry Francona said. "Now, it seems like they're swinging a potent bat. That's nice to have. Every once in a while, you need a three-run homer. You can talk all you want about playing the game right, and we certainly try, but it's nice to spread a game out with a three-run homer."
Lonnie Chisenhall is another Indians hitter who has been stepping his game up. In nine September games, including a solo homer in Monday's loss, he's batting .321 (9-for-28) with three homers and six RBIs.
Indians: Kluber 2-0 since return
Kluber has made two starts since returning from the right middle finger sprain that kept him on the disabled list for about a month. Both times, he allowed two runs over five innings en route to a victory. The righty's most recent outing came at U.S. Cellular Field last Thursday and was interrupted by a 17-minute rain delay in the fifth.
"I was a little sloppy to start out with," Kluber said afterward. "I didn't have my best command early on, but the nice part about that is that the offense came out and put up a lot of runs. I think I was kind of inconsistent with my delivery early on and I wasn't getting my arm in a good slot, pitch after pitch. But, I kind of figured it out a little bit just playing catch during the delay and [pitched better after that]."
Kluber had made three starts against Kansas City this season. He is 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA, and across 20 innings he has 17 strikeouts and five walks.
Royals: Duffy experiences setback
After undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, Duffy has made just five starts this season, the first on Aug. 7. He was 2-0 with a 1.85 ERA before being scratched from Tuesday's start against the Indians. Duffy, who most recently pitched on Sept. 7 against the Tigers, was scheduled to start last Friday at Comerica Park but was skipped in the rotation.
"When Duff threw his last start here, not even the first day, but the second day after his start, he started feeling some mild tightness in his forearm," Yost said. "We shut him down from the Detroit start as a precaution and it was starting to feel better. He threw a side and felt good, but at the end of the side, he tried to crank up on it and still felt that mild tightness. We went and got an MRI and it is a very minor flexor strain. We are going to use the utmost caution with him right now coming off Tommy John surgery."
• The Royals had 14 hits on Monday. Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain hit back-to-back triples to start a three-run sixth. Perez finished with three hits, while Emilio Bonifacio, Billy Butler, David Lough and Alcides Escobar each had two.
• Cleveland is 9-8 against the Royals this season, while Kansas City has won five of eight meetings at Kauffman Stadium.
• Royals pitchers racked up 17 strikeouts on Monday, setting a franchise record for a nine-inning game.
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.