CLEVELAND — The Indians can thank their starting pitching for keeping them in playoff contention.
Trevor Bauer continued that trend Sunday by taking a shutout into the seventh and Cleveland hung on for a 3-1 win over the Houston Astros.
The Indians (66-63) have used strong work by their rotation to stay in the postseason picture. Cleveland's starters have recorded a 1.71 ERA in 13 games since Aug. 9.
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Manager Terry Francona knows securing a playoff spot won't be easy. The Indians trail Kansas City by six games in the AL Central and are battling several teams in the crowded wild card race.
"We have our work cut out for us, but if we pitch like that we're going to give ourselves a chance," he said.
The Indians have won four of their last five series, including three straight.
"We haven't been scoring a ton of runs," he said. "The hope is the pitching stays strong and we start scoring runs, spreading a few games out."
The starters have allowed 15 earned runs in 79 innings in their dominant stretch. Bauer (5-7), winning for the first time since July 18, held Houston to four hits and struck out nine. The right-hander was pulled after issuing a leadoff walk in the seventh.
"Every day you run a new guy out there and you have this feeling you're going to have a really good start," Bauer said. "It's nice for the team to have that confidence. It's been unbelievable."
Cody Allen, the Indians' fourth pitcher, worked out of ninth-inning trouble for his 17th save. He walked pinch-hitter Chris Carter to start the inning and gave up a one-out single to Jake Marisnick. Jose Altuve, the AL's leading hitter, singled to load the bases with two outs, but Allen struck out Dexter Fowler to end his 29-pitch outing.
Carlos Santana's sacrifice fly in the third put Cleveland ahead while Lonnie Chisenhall had an RBI single in the fourth. Jose Ramirez added an RBI single in the seventh.
Bauer was 0-3 in his last six starts coming into the game in a season that has been marked by cases of wild inconsistency. He allowed five first-inning runs in two of his last three starts, but didn't give up a hit until the sixth in the other.
"He'll go through spurts where he throws three or four balls in a row, but you look up and he's throwing a lot of strikes," Francona said. "He has periods where he kind of loses what he's doing, but he really competes. He gets mad at himself when he doesn't do what he wants."
Jon Singleton's RBI double in the eighth off Bryan Shaw scored Houston's only run. Brett Oberholtzer (4-9) allowed three runs in 6 2-3 innings.
The Astros finished 5-5 on their 10-game road trip. Houston is 1-8 in its last nine games at Progressive Field.
TAKE A BREAK
OF Michael Brantley, in a 3-for-30 slump since Aug. 15, wasn't in Sunday's lineup. With the Indians off Monday, Francona thinks the two-day break will help the All-Star, who snapped an 0-for-15 skid Saturday with an RBI single. Brantley is batting .311 and has already reached career highs in homers (18) and RBIs (81).
BETTER REST UP
The Indians don't play Monday, their last off-day until Sept. 25. Cleveland will play 30 consecutive days beginning with Tuesday's game in Chicago. The Indians were scheduled to be off Sept. 8, but instead will host the Angels in a make-up of a rainout in June.
Astros: RHP Brad Peacock (sore forearm) is expected to start Wednesday against Oakland. He was pulled after five innings Friday, but played catch Sunday.
Indians: C Yan Gomes (seven-day concussion disabled list) is expected to accompany the team on its road trip that begins Tuesday in Chicago. He's eligible to be activated Friday.
Astros: RHP Scott Feldman (7-9) opens a three-game series at home against Oakland on Monday. He matched a career high with 121 pitches in defeating the Yankees in his last start.
Indians: LHP T.J. House (2-3) will start the opener of a three-game series against the White Sox on Tuesday. He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in nine straight starts.
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