KANSAS CITY -- Only a few days ago, Danny Salazar leaned against a wall inside Target Field's visitors' clubhouse, explaining how no starter in the Indians' rotation wanted to be the one who ended the streak. The group has been on the kind of roll that fuels friendly competition among teammates.
In a 7-4 loss to the Royals on Sunday, Salazar was the one who finally flinched.
The right-hander lacked the usual power on his fastball and searched for consistency all afternoon, while Kansas City rapped hit after hit. When the smoke cleared, Salazar was charged with six runs in an outing that defied the kind of dominance Cleveland's rotation has enjoyed of late.
"I didn't do my job," Salazar said.
The hope now is that -- given how well the starting corps has performed over the past few weeks -- Salazar can turn the page swiftly on his forgettable 4 2/3 innings. This marked the first time since June 26 that an Indians starter allowed at least six runs and came after Salazar had posted a tidy 1.39 ERA in his previous five starts, following a near two-month stint on the disabled list.
Salazar's outing aside, what Cleveland's rotation has done this month has been nothing short of remarkable. Prior to Sunday, the starters had combined to go 8-0 with a 1.51 ERA in the first 10 games of a road trip through Tampa Bay, Boston, Minnesota and Kansas City. In 16 games leading up to Sunday, the rotation was 11-1 with a 1.78 ERA and 131 strikeouts against 24 walks in 106 innings.
For perspective, the Red Sox ranked second in the American League in ERA over that same 16-game time period, with a 3.51 mark and 100 strikeouts.
"It's been unbelievable, man," Indians catcher Yan Gomes said. "We all know what kind of ballgames need to be played late in August and into September, especially to create some room. And they've done it."
Cleveland's 8-3 record on this road trip and 20-8 mark dating back to July 21 has been powered by its pitching staff.
As recently as June 9, the Indians actually ranked last in the AL in rotation ERA. At that point, however, ace Corey Kluber was fresh off a month-long stint on the DL and Salazar was in the midst of his own DL stay. Now the Tribe's starters lead the AL in ERA (3.96), strikeout percentage (27.6), Fielding Independent Pitching (3.56) and WAR (15.8), among other categories.
"Us pitching well probably goes hand in hand with playing good baseball," Kluber said. "I think for most teams, success kind of begins and ends with getting good pitching -- the rotation and the bullpen. When we go out there and pitch well, it takes the pressure off the bullpen, it takes the pressure off the offense. The idea is to keep that going as long as we can."
That will require getting Salazar back on track after Sunday's setback.
"We're competing," Salazar said. "That's great. That's what we need. That's what got us last year to the World Series."