After struggling for much of August, the Cleveland Indians have gotten their playoff drive back on track.
The Indians are hoping a healthier Corey Kluber can lead them to a fourth straight win Saturday night against the New York Mets.
Cleveland (75-65) opened August with a season-high eighth consecutive win, but went 12-16 during the month and finished with a five-game skid. The Indians are 4-1 in September after an 8-1 victory in Friday's series opener with New York (63-76) and remain well within striking distance of Tampa Bay for the final AL wild-card berth.
Nick Swisher's grand slam was one of the highlights of the rout and helped make up for the absence of the hot-hitting Michael Brantley, who left before Friday's game for the impending birth of his first child.
"This is a fun time of year," manager Terry Francona said. "When you show up to the ballpark and you're nervous about the game, that's really exciting.
"I wish we had a better record, but we're in this every bit as much as about four or five other teams."
Kluber (7-5, 3.54 ERA) will try to deliver another victory in his return from a sprained right middle finger and his first matchup with the Mets, losers in four of five. He was originally slated to pitch in relief Friday but Justin Masterson's oblique injury caused those plans to change.
In his first start since Aug. 5, the right-hander will have to make the most of his pitches as he's expected to throw between 75-80 before handing it over to the bullpen.
"It's exciting," Francona told the team's website "I actually think that he's going to go out there and, obviously we're going to cut it short, but I think he's going to pitch just fine."
Jon Niese (6-6, 3.66) has been sharp since coming off the disabled list. The left-hander is 3-0 with a 2.14 ERA in five starts since returning from a partially torn rotator cuff and has a 1.30 ERA in his last four.
Niese gave up a season-high 10 hits Sunday in Washington but only allowed two runs over 5 2-3 innings before leaving with a cramp in his left leg. He was in line for the win until the Nationals rallied for a 6-5 victory.
"A lot of things actually didn't go our way," Niese said. "A lot of broken-bat hits, ground-ball hits that got through the holes. That's kind of the way it goes sometimes. This game can unravel in a hurry, and you've just got to stay positive."
Niese won his only start against Cleveland on June 16, 2010, allowing three runs over seven innings at Progressive Field.
Among Indians hitters, Michael Bourn has the most experience against Niese, going 6 for 16 (.375).
Cleveland hasn't won four straight since its eight-game win streak July 24-Aug. 1.
The Associated Press News Service
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