A steady diet of last-place teams could help the Cleveland Indians turn around their season.
The Indians (21-21) try to move above the .500 mark and extend their winning streak to five in the middle game of a weekend series with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday at Jacobs Field.
After a season-high six-game skid, the Indians swept three games from the Kansas City Royals—owners of baseball’s worst record—this week. Cleveland then opened interleague play Friday night with a 4-1 win over the Pirates (13-29), the last place team in the NL Central.
Cleveland, which posted a major league-best 15-3 interleague record last season, has won 12 of its last 13 games against NL clubs.
“I feel like I have the advantage with them not seeing me,” Indians starter C.C. Sabathia said after his win Friday improved him to 8-3 lifetime in interleague play. “I threw a lot of strikes and tried to get ahead in the count. It worked out pretty well.”
Sabathia allowed just three hits in Cleveland’s second complete-game effort in three nights. Jake Westbrook went the distance for a six-hit shutout of Kansas City on Wednesday.
“The way (Sabathia) was throwing, it felt like we were down by 10,” said Pirates left fielder Jason Bay, who went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and had a 10-game hitting streak snapped.
Jason Johnson (2-3, 5.44 ERA) will try to continue Cleveland’s recent strong starting pitching, but he has fared poorly in the last month. Johnson opened the season 2-0 with a 1.83 ERA in three starts through April 18, but has an 0-3 record, 8.28 ERA and .414 opponent batting average in five outings since.
Johnson allowed just three runs—two earned—in six innings Sunday, but suffered the loss in a 3-2 defeat to Detroit, his former club. He has never faced the Pirates.
Despite the mediocre start, the Indians are still ahead of their 2005 pace, when they were 19-23 through 42 games en route to a 93-69 finish, just two games behind the Boston Red Sox for the AL wild card.
The Pirates have had nearly as much trouble in interleague play as the Indians have had success. Friday’s defeat dropped Pittsburgh to 1-12 in its last 13 games at AL parks.
The Pirates also are a major league-worst 3-18 on the road.
Pittsburgh sends Ian Snell (2-3, 6.00) to the mound as he tries to put his worst start of the season behind him. The right-hander allowed seven runs and seven hits—two of them homers—in just 1 1-3 innings of Sunday’s 8-2 loss to the Florida Marlins.
“I just didn’t have it,” said Snell, who had lasted at least five innings in each of his other seven starts this season. “Everything was flat—I didn’t have any movement, and my slider was flat. They came out swinging, and they came out swinging hot. They hit the ball pretty hard.”
Snell will try to make it through the early innings unscathed, something Pirates starters have had trouble doing. Pittsburgh has allowed 50 first-inning runs this season, the most allowed by any team in any inning.
Cleveland scored three runs in the first inning Friday including a solo home run by center fielder and leadoff hitter Grady Sizemore.
Sizemore has homered in three of his last four games.