Corey Kluber's breakout season could end with the AL Cy Young, though he's more concerned with improving the Cleveland Indians' dim playoff chances.
With a vital series looming, Kluber will try to help the Indians to their fifth win in six games Sunday against the Minnesota Twins.
Kluber (16-9, 2.54 ERA) ranks among the AL's leaders in wins, ERA, WHIP (1.11) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.0). The right-hander's 244 strikeouts are the most for the Indians (80-74) since Sam McDowell had 304 in 1970.
With two starts remaining, Kluber has a serious chance to join Cliff Lee (2008), CC Sabathia (2007) and Gaylord Perry (1972) as Cleveland's only Cy Young winners.
Kluber has certainly looked like he belongs in that group, winning three straight starts behind a 1.11 ERA and 0.90 WHIP while fanning 29 over 24 1-3 innings. That stretch includes allowing two runs in 8 1-3 innings of an 8-2 win over Minnesota on Sept. 11.
He followed that by collecting a career-high 14 strikeouts while yielding one run and scattering seven hits in seven innings of a 4-2 win at Houston on Tuesday. It was the most strikeouts in a game for Cleveland since Bartolo Colon had 14 on May 29, 1998.
"He worked ahead," manager Terry Francona said. "He usually starts the game out establishing his fastball command. I think he had to work into it. ... But his stuff is just so late moving and going both directions. Pitching in and opening up away, there's a reason he had those strikeouts."
Despite emerging as Cleveland's ace, Kluber is more focused on helping the club cut into its 3 1/2-game gap behind Kansas City, which holds the second wild-card spot.
The Indians host the Royals for a three-game set beginning Monday, but they'll first have to complete a suspended game from Aug. 31. Cleveland was leading 4-2 in the 10th inning before rain forced the postponement in Kansas City.
"Until we're mathematically eliminated, we have a chance," Kluber told MLB's official website.
Those chances improved slightly with a 7-3 win over the Twins (66-88) on Saturday in which Yan Gomes homered among his three hits while getting four RBIs.
The catcher is 7 for 18 (.389) with two homers and eight RBIs in four games, and he's a .400 hitter in 14 career contests at Minnesota.
Michael Brantley had two hits and is batting .432 during an 11-game hitting streak, becoming the first Indians player to have at least four streaks of that length in a season since Toby Harrah had that many in 1982.
The Twins are turning to Anthony Swarzak (3-1, 4.42) in the finale of this three-game set, and he's looking to show some improvement in his second straight start in place of the injured Tommy Milone (shoulder and neck).
The right-hander, who has started just twice over 96 appearances in two years, was hammered for six runs and 11 hits before being pulled with one out in the fifth and not getting a decision in Monday's 8-6 loss to Detroit.
Swarzak's only other start this season was a 3-1 home win over the Indians on July 23, and he yielded one run and two hits in five innings. He's come on in relief against them on four other occasions, surrendering five runs and 10 hits in 4 2-3 innings while winning his only decision.