March 31, 2014

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Trevor Bauer will try to send the Cleveland Indians to Texas with some momentum when he takes the mound Wednesday in the series finale against the Oakland Athletics.

Bauer won't be pitching in the four-game series between American League division leaders that begins Thursday. The Indians have lined up Josh Tomlin, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.

Bauer's goal Wednesday: Take care of business against an AL weakling so that the Cleveland bullpen can be fresh for a series that could go a long way toward determining home-field advantage in the playoffs.

The Indians (72-52) and Rangers (73-53) are in good shape in their respective divisions.

Despite a 9-1 loss to the A's on Tuesday night, Cleveland still holds a 6 1/2-game lead over the Detroit Tigers (66-59) in the AL Central.

Texas, meanwhile, fell 3-0 at Cincinnati on Tuesday. The Rangers nonetheless hold a 5 1/2-game edge over the Seattle Mariners.

At stake beginning Thursday is the best overall record in the AL, which not only earns the top team a shot at the wild-card winner in the first round of the playoffs, but also gives it the home-field advantage in the AL Championship Series should it get there.

A loss Wednesday to Oakland (54-72) potentially could drop the Indians behind the Rangers at the start of their showdown. Cleveland and Texas enter play Wednesday virtually tied for the top mark in the AL.

The Indians-Rangers series will end with Salazar on the mound, and that is a concern for Cleveland. He was bombed Tuesday for the second straight time since coming off the disabled list.

"They got pretty good swings at his fastball," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "The hope is that he gets some repetition and gets back to the Danny we saw in the first half. It would certainly be helpful."

Bauer (9-5, 3.88 ERA) enters Wednesday's game on the heels of a season-best, 13-strikeout performance against the AL East-leading Toronto Blue Jays. He tossed eight innings of two-run ball but did not get a decision in the Indians' 3-2 win Friday.

The California native will be in search of his seventh road win of the season. Only seven AL starters -- Texas' Cole Hamels (9-2 on the road), Houston's Doug Fister (9-3), Detroit's Michael Fulmer (8-3), Toronto's Aaron Sanchez (7-1), Toronto's J.A. Happ (7-2), Baltimore's Chris Tillman (7-3) and the Chicago White Sox's Chris Sale (7-4) -- have reached that level.

Bauer has never beaten the A's, but he came close in both of his previous start against them. He allowed a total of four runs (three earned) in those games but didn't get a decision in either as the Indians were recording a 2-1 loss at Oakland last season and a 5-3 home win last month.

The Indians will be up against Oakland's hottest pitcher, right-hander Kendall Graveman (9-8, 4.09 ERA).

The 25-year-old has gone 8-2 with a 3.47 ERA in his past 15 starts. His seven wins since June 23 are the fifth most in the AL.

Graveman has never beaten the Indians, going 0-2 with a 3.38 ERA in three career starts. In his lone appearance against Cleveland this year, he gave up four runs (three earned) in 6 1/3 innings during a 5-3 loss at Progressive Field on July 29.

The A's will be looking for more offensive fireworks from Danny Valencia, who started for the first time in three games Tuesday and contributed a single and a double to the 9-1 win.

It was his seventh consecutive start with two or more hits.

"When you're playing big-league games, you have to play hard," Valencia said of his concentration level in the wake of his clubhouse fight with teammate Billy Butler on Friday. "You can't focus on those (negative) things. You've got to move past that. Play the game hard, and good things happen."

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