The Cleveland Indians have spent most of the season hovering around .500, but they know that won’t be enough to win the competitive AL Central.
The Indians kick off a crucial road trip when they open a three-game series with the defending division and World Series champion Chicago White Sox on Friday at U.S. Cellular Field.
Cleveland (29-30) wrapped up a 5-5 homestand with Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics. The Indians have had only three winning streaks of at least three games since a six-game run April 4-11, including just one of at least four games.
The Indians have been at exactly the .500 mark 11 different times this season, the highest total in the AL.
“We turned it around last year and we’re the same team,” said Ben Broussard, who homered Thursday. “Just being in the hunt and within striking distance in August and September is where you want to be. The way that will happen is by playing well now.”
Friday’s game opens a nine-game road swing that includes three games at Yankee Stadium and three interleague contests in Milwaukee.
“We have to get ready for a big series. We’ve got a lot of games left,” said Broussard, who is 15-for-30 with four homers during a seven-game hitting streak. “We have to start getting back to playing close games. It’s OK to win a blowout, but not follow up with a bad loss.”
The White Sox (36-23) trail the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers by 1 1/2 games and own a seven-game lead over the third-place Indians. Chicago lost 6-2 to the Tigers on Thursday, failing to wrap up a three-game sweep.
Paul Konerko’s two-run homer in the first inning provided all the offense for the White Sox.
Third baseman Joe Crede left Thursday’s game with irritation of the lower back and is day to day. Manager Ozzie Guillen said he expected Crede to be able to play by Saturday.
Javier Vazquez (7-3, 4.14 ERA) will look to help the White Sox bounce back. He won his third straight start on Saturday, allowing five runs and a season-high 11 hits in 6 1-3 innings of an 8-6 victory over the Texas Rangers.
The White Sox are giving Vazquez a major league-best 9.17 runs of support per nine innings pitched and have given him a lead at some point in all 11 of his starts this season.
Vazquez is 3-1 with a 3.49 ERA in five career starts against the Indians. He is facing Cliff Lee (4-5, 5.17) for the third time this season. Vazquez won both prior meetings, allowing just one unearned run in 12 innings, while Lee gave up a total of 12 runs—10 earned—in just 7 2-3 innings of work.
Lee allowed two runs and six hits in seven innings of Saturday’s 14-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels. The left-hander bounced back nicely from his worst outing of the season, an 11-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox on May 29 in which he allowed seven runs in just 2 2-3 innings.
Lee went 1-4 with a 7.79 ERA in six May starts, and said he considered the possibility that he was tipping his pitches.
“Just the way guys were swinging at some pitches made it seem that way. It made me aware to make sure (the delivery of each pitch) looked the same.”
Lee has struggled against the White Sox, going 2-4 with a 7.36 ERA in 11 career starts against them.