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Kansas City, Here We Come: Tribe Opens Four-Game Set With Royals With AL Central Lead At Stake

After the first two games of the season, I have to admit that the second-last thing that I thought I would be doing on April 18 would be writing a preview for a series that is -- in effect -- a battle for first place between the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals. After the teams finished 4-5 in the division last year, having such a series after two-and-a-half weeks was probably about the last thing anyone thought would happen.

If that is the second-last thing I thought I would be doing today, what is the last, then?

That I would be saying that the Cleveland Indians have the best record in the American League heading into games of April 18.

Now the Tribe has a test in the midwest, taking on a Royals' team that has been every bit as surprising in the early going of 2011. Only yesterday did Kansas City lose their fifth game of the season, seeing a four-game winning streak snapped by the Seattle Mariners.

For the opener of these four games (which are all scheduled to start at 8:10), the Indians will send Carlos Carrasco to the hill seeking his second victory of the season.

Carrasco (1-1, 5.03) last pitched Wednesday in Anaheim, in a game the Tribe lost in 12 innings. Carrasco, of course, did not get a decision in that game, in which he gave up three runs on only five hits in seven innings, walking two and fanning five. It was the second straight strong start for Carrasco after a rough personal season-opener against Chicago. In his last two outings, Carrasco has allowed four runs and nine hits in 13 innings, with eleven strikeouts in that span. And like Fausto Carmona, Carrasco's ERA is on a steady decline. It would be nice to see that ERA sink to somewhere around 4.00 after tonight's game.

Kansas City will counter tonight with right-hander Kyle Davies, who has had a tough start to 2011. In three starts, covering 14 innings, Davies has allowed 23 hits and 14 earned runs for an ERA of 9.00. And with eight walks (to go along with nine K's), Davies has allowed 2.21 Walks/Hits per Inning Pitched -- a truly high number, and one which might have the Indians' hitters salivating as they look ahead to tonight.

For his career, Davies is 43-57, with a high ERA of 5.56 in 141 appearances. Davies began his career with the Atlanta Braves before heading to Kansas City in the middle of the 2007 season. In nine career appearances against the Indians, Davies is 3-5 with a 5.80 ERA.

Kansas City is hitting at a .275 clip on the season and is 7-3 at home. The Royals are off to their best start since 2003, while the Indians have not been this good this soon since 2002.

The Royals have a staff ERA through fifteen games of 3.70.

The Indians, on the other hand, have lowered their ERA to 3.16 -- this from a team whose ERA was 11.50 after two games. The Indians are hitting .265 as a team, and have clubbed 19 homers on the season.

The second game of this series will be tomorrow night, with Mitch Talbot originally scheduled to go for the Indians. But with Talbot having been placed on the DL, it is likely that Jeanmar Gomez will be recalled to make the start in Talbot's place. .

Photographs by spatulated, Triple Tri, and chrischappelear used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.