The Indians may not hold one of the two American League Wild Card spots at the moment, the formula is simple for them to get there: Beat the Royals in Kansas City on Wednesday.
With the Rays and Rangers -- the two teams Cleveland trails by a half-game in the Wild Card race -- squaring off in Tampa Bay, the Indians will pass the loser in the standings with a win against the Royals.
But don't expect the Royals to go down without a fight. Their Wild Card deficit sits at 3 1/2 games, but their next four games are against teams they're chasing: the finale against Cleveland and a three-game weekend series against Texas. Then, in the season's final week, they play seven games against the bottom-dwelling White Sox and Mariners.
On Wednesday, Kansas City sends left-hander Bruce Chen (7-3, 3.11) to the hill for his 13th start of the season. Chen faced Detroit on Friday and gave up five earned runs on seven hits in just 4 1/3 innings.
Opposite Chen will be Indians right-hander Danny Salazar (1-2, 2.66 ERA) coming off a similarly short, yet far more successful, outing. Salazar worked 3 2/3 scoreless frames against the White Sox, striking out nine and lowering his ERA to 1.57 over his last five starts.
He'll be backed by shortstop Mike Aviles, a Royals Draft pick who is happy to see his former teammates experiencing some success.
"I think it's awesome," Aviles said. "I think it's great to see they've changed everything around. They've got some good pitching. They've always had a good team, but it always felt like they were a couple pitchers away."
Indians: Masterson on the mend
Right-hander Justin Masterson, who has been out since Sept. 2 with a strained left oblique, will long toss Wednesday.
"I've been very encouraged. We've been on a great path," Masterson said. "They said [I'll throw off a mound] Friday, but we may try to get that moved up."
In order to throw again sooner than Friday, the team's medical staff will have to sign off, manager Terry Francona said.
Royals: KC working with pinch-hitters
The Royals are 12-for-60 (.200) as pinch-hitters this season with just seven RBIs, and manager Ned Yost has a theory as to why.
"Because their whole focus is on the result. They don't get a hit and it crushes them," Yost said. "But the whole focus has got to be on the process. You've got to be ready to hit and have a good at-bat, because pinch-hitting, there's no other job like it in the world.
"You can't call time out and do it again. You've got one shot at being successful, and in this sport, it's the hardest job to do."
• Jason Giambi has six hits in 16 career at-bats (.375) against Chen, four of them homer, and four walks.
• The Indians are just 36-51 this season against teams with winning records.