CLEVELAND -- The crowd inside Progressive Field rose to its feet and grew louder as Trevor Bauer headed off the mound in the seventh inning on Sunday. Before disappearing down the dugout steps, the young pitcher answered the show of appreciation with a quick lift of his hat.
Cleveland's rotation has provided plenty of reason for the fans to cheer of late. Building on the recent work of his fellow starters, Bauer turned in a strong performance against the Astros to guide the Tribe to a 3-1 victory at Progressive Field.
"It's been unbelievable," Bauer said of the Tribe's rotation. "Every day, you run a new guy out there and have this feeling that he's going to post a really good start and we're going to win the game. It's nice to have that confidence as a team every day."
The Indians (66-63) have now captured three consecutive series wins and have won or split seven of their past eight series. Across that stretch, pitching has been the primary component that has kept the club on the edge of the postseason picture.
Dating back to Aug. 9, Cleveland has won nine of 13 games, during which the team's rotation has turned in a 1.71 ERA, .176 opponents' batting average and 0.90 WHIP. Over 79 combined innings in that period, Bauer (three starts), Corey Kluber (three), Carlos Carrasco (three), Danny Salazar (two), T.J. House (one) and Josh Tomlin (one) have piled up 87 strikeouts against 22 walks.
The Indians understand that their pitching has the potential to help the team climb in both the American League Central and Wild Card standings.
"We haven't been scoring a ton of runs," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "And we've won a couple series in a row because of [our pitching]. The hope is the pitching stays strong, we start scoring a few more runs and we stretch a couple of games out."
Bauer has alternated between solid outings and rocky ones over his last seven turns, allowing five runs in three starts during that stretch. Against the Astros, who have featured one of the AL's top offenses in the second half, the right-hander found a rhythm and worked one batter into the seventh inning before bowing out to cheers from the Cleveland faithful.
Offensively, the Indians did just enough against Astros lefty Brett Oberholtzer to help Bauer's showing hold up.
Carlos Santana provided a sacrifice fly in the third inning, Lonnie Chisenhall contributed an RBI single in the fourth and Jose Ramirez drove in a run with a single in the seventh. That was all Oberholtzer allowed in his 6 2/3 innings for Houston, but it was sufficient for Bauer to collect his fifth victory of the season for the Tribe.
"Obie did a good job," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "He did a good job battling and had us right there in the ballgame."
In his scoreless outing, Bauer struck out nine, scattered four hits and walked three in a 115-pitch effort. During the first inning of his previous start in Minnesota, Bauer surrendered five runs to the first five batters he encountered in the first inning. Since that ugly stretch, the righty has not allowed a run and held batters to a .114 (4-for-35) showing at the plate.
"I was trying to throw strikes," said Bauer, who had a 63-percent strike rate on the day. "That was kind of the focus all day long. It turned out well. I got away with a couple mistakes that helped out. The defense made some really nice plays that helped out, too."
Specifically, Indians rookie outfielder Tyler Holt came up big for Bauer in the field.
In the first, Holt -- manning right field on this afternoon -- made a spectacular diving grab to rob Marc Krauss of a potential run-scoring hit, ending the inning and stranding a runner on second. With a runner on first and no outs in the sixth, Holt made another diving catch in right to once again steal a hit away from Krauss.
"That was awesome," Bauer said. "I kind of felt bad for Marc. I played with Marc, too, in the Minor Leagues [with the D-backs]. He squared those two balls up and got robbed. It was definitely nice to be on the winning side of that exchange."
Holt did not feel too bad for Krauss.
"Not at all," Holt said with a laugh. "He got that last one and made things interesting. I was just playing 'D' and [trying to] help this team win."
Holt was referring to the eighth inning, when Krauss singled to left off Tribe reliever Bryan Shaw and then scored on a double by Jon Singleton, cutting Cleveland's lead to 3-1. Houston then loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth, but closer Cody Allen struck out Dexter Fowler to seal the win and notch his 17th save.
Once again, the Tribe's rotation led the way to the win column.
"We have our work cut out for us," Francona said. "But, if we pitch like that, we'll give ourselves a chance."