Managers will tell you that all series and games count the same, so they approach series against a divisional opponent exactly the same as the rest. But there's just more at stake when two teams fighting for the same turf in the standings square off.
Such is the case as the Cleveland Indians facethe Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night in the second game of a four-game series in Kansas City. The Royals will send Mike Minor (2-1, 5.26 ERA) to the mound, while Cleveland will counter with Sam Hentges (1-0, 4.76 ERA).
The Indians will be trying to build on an 8-6 victory in the series opener Monday night. The Indians scored five runs in the seventh inning, then held on after the Royals answered with three in the bottom of the seventh.
Kansas City manager Mike Matheny broke into coach-speak Monday when talking about the series, and the one that follows against the White Sox. The Indians and White Sox are the Royals' closest pursuers in the American League Central.
"It makes for great news, but for us it doesn't matter," he said. "We just have to win. I understand the urgency when we're talking about teams in the division fighting for the same thing. But that gets in the way of what we need to do, and that's playing good baseball. We're going to continue to give that same message all season long. That's truly the only thing we can control.
"If we're trying harder against people in our own division, then we need to offer refunds after games. It's how we should be going about our business, because it's the most important game we can play today. I don't care who it's against. When we buy into that, then we've got a better chance of sustained, good baseball."
The Royals have been playing good baseball, in spite of the fact that they own the worst home ERA (5.31) in the American League entering Tuesday.
Minor is due for an ERA-lowering start Tuesday; he has alternated starts where he raised his ERA and lowered it. His last outing, at Pittsburgh April 28, he raised it, giving up five runs (four earned) in 4 1/3 innings. The Royals took a 7-0 lead before Pittsburgh came storming back, and Minor couldn't survive the fifth inning.
"Our offense did their job really early on, but there's a lot of game left and I think both sides knew that," Minor said after the game. "Once they got a couple runs on the board, it looks a lot different. Then it gives them some energy and some momentum. It was my job to put a stop to that, and I didn't."
In eight games (two starts) lifetime against the Indians, Minor is 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA.
Hentges will be making his first major league start, filling the spot in the rotation vacated when Logan Allen was optioned to the team's alternate training site April 28.
Hentges has appeared in three games, picking up a win against the New York Yankees April 25 with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. In his last appearance April 28, he threw three innings in mop-up duty in the Indians' 10-2 loss to the Twins. He allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits.
"The youth thing, it's more exciting than anything," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said before last weekend when asked about the young additions to the pitching staff. "I asked them to be patient, because I'm gonna try to put them where I think they can succeed and keep an eye on their workloads and things like that."
Pitching against a division rival, one currently in first place, sounds like as good a place to succeed as any.
--Field Level Media