CLEVELAND — If the Central Division title indeed runs through Detroit, the Indians had better ask for directions.
With another nice crowd (28,504) in attendance at Progressive Field, Cleveland went flat again Saturday afternoon, falling 9-4 to the Tigers, who increased their division lead over the Indians to 3½ games.
Detroit, the two-time defending division champ, has owned Cleveland this year, winning eight of 10 meetings, including seven straight.
The Tigers have opened the four-game series at Progressive Field by outscoring a listless Indians bunch 16-4.
“We’re definitely not intimidated,” said Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis, who was part of a players meeting after the latest lost to Detroit. “We just came out flat the last couple days. We had a little meeting and we’re looking to change that.
“The pressure’s really not on us. It’s on them. They’re the ones that were in the World Series last year and they’re the ones with the big names and the high-priced contracts.”
It was tough to tell Saturday.
Looking like a loose club with little to lose, the Tigers scored seven times over the third and fourth innings to lead 7-1 and never look back.
It was the Indians tightening up, with starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco offering up another disappointing outing, while his hitters did little against Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez.
Making his sixth spot start of the season, Carrasco was roughed up for seven runs on 10 hits over just
3 1⁄3 innings.
He allowed consecutive two-out home runs to Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the third inning before Detroit tacked on three in the fourth to put the game out of reach.
“I thought (Carrasco) started the game out real well,” said Indians manager Terry Francona, whose team has dropped four straight on the heels of a five-game winning streak. “He made a real bad pitch to Cabrera and he does with it what he usually does with a mistake. Things spiraled from there.
“When things started happening, he started going to his breaking ball a lot, instead of pounding his fastball inside.”
Outside of one start, Carrasco (0-4, 9.10 ERA) has been brutal. He is one of six pitchers in the majors to have allowed six or more runs in four-plus starts, covering 282⁄3 innings. Of the other five, none have fewer than 100 2⁄3 innings pitched.
Sanchez (7-5, 2.70) was activated from the disabled list prior to the game and was on a pitch count, but showed little rust, allowing just a run on three hits over five innings.
Michael Bourn’s infield single scored Cleveland’s first run in the third inning. The Indians added homers from Nick Swisher (solo shot in the sixth) and Ryan Raburn (two-run homer in the ninth) to cap their offensive output.
Kipnis saw his career-high streaks came to an end — on the day he was elected to the American League All-Star team. He did not collect a hit for the first time in 17 games and was unable to reach base for the first time in 37.
The Indians have two chances to split the series — today and Monday — and to prove the Tigers don’t really have their number.
“That’s not really how we feel,” Francona said. “We certainly need to play better against them. They’re the team directly ahead of us and they’ve had their way with us.”
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* WHO: Cleveland vs. Detroit
* TIME: 1:05
* WHERE: Progressive Field
* PITCHERS: Kluber (6-5, 4.33 ERA) vs. Fister (6-5, 3.80)
* TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM