MLB

Indians-Mariners Preview

SEATTLE -- Thursday night's game is supposed to be the final meeting of the season for the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners as the teams head into the finale of a four-game series at Safeco Field.

But will it be?

Two franchises that met in the 2001 playoffs but have just one postseason series win between them since are on an improbable course that may well put them on the same field again in October.

Cleveland (32-26) and Seattle (33-26) are in the thick of the playoff race as the young season heads into its third month, much to the surprise of many.

The Indians lead the American League Central and have won six of eight games, while the Mariners are three games behind Texas in the AL West going into a big weekend series with the Rangers.

Cleveland had one of the hottest offenses in baseball through the first few days of June, but the Indians' bats went quiet over the past two games against Seattle starters.

Mariners starting pitching was struggling heading into this week, but Taijuan Walker's eight shutout innings Wednesday marked the fourth consecutive quality start for a team that is without ace Felix Hernandez. Walker said after the game that Hisashi Iwakuma's strong outing on Sunday set the tone for the starters to turn things around.

"Our starting pitchers were in a little slump, a little funk," Walker said. "Kuma, that last game in Texas, picked us up. Then (James) Paxton and (Wade) Miley. We knew we had to pick it up, and we did."

Manager Scott Servais said the progress of young phenoms Paxton and Walker will be a key while Hernandez is out due to a strained right calf.

"It's a huge lift for us, obviously," he said of Paxton and Walker pitching well in the Cleveland series. "Particularly with Felix out, we need that. And those guys are capable of it."

Seattle's Thursday starter, Nathan Karns, is coming off his worst outing of the season -- seven runs on eight hits in four innings Saturday at Texas. Karns (5-2, 4.23 ERA) certainly will be in the mood to turn around his fortunes.

He will face a Cleveland team that managed a total of just nine hits and one run over its past two games. The Indians are battling the injury bug, with catcher Yan Gomes and outfielder Jose Ramirez sitting out the Wednesday night game after taking foul tips off their bodies Tuesday night.

Manager Terry Francona said Gomes sustained a testicular contusion but no serious damage, and he added that a bruised shin shouldn't keep Ramirez out long.

"As (Wednesday) night progressed, it got a lot better," Francona said of Ramirez. "I think he'll be able to play (Thursday)."

Tuesday and Wednesday marked the first time that the Indians failed to score more than one run in back-to-back games all season. The 5-0 loss Wednesday was the first time Cleveland was shut out since May 7.

The Indians will send starter Josh Tomlin (8-1, 3.54 ERA) to the mound in the series finale. Tomlin is 4-0 with a 2.93 ERA in four road starts this season. In his most recent outing, he pitched 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball Saturday in a 7-1 home win against the Kansas City Royals.

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