After falling just short in the division race to the eventual World Series champions last season, the Cleveland Indians thought they would be contenders this year.
Instead, the Indians find themselves just trying to get within five games of .500 in their final game before the All-Star break as they host the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday.
The Indians (40-46) won 93 games last season, cutting the Chicago White Sox’s lead in the AL Central from 15 games on Aug. 1 to 1 1/2 games with a week left in the regular season. Cleveland faded in the end, however, losing six of its last seven, including four against division opponents.
The struggles seemed to carry over to this season. The pitching staff has a 4.73 ERA, up from 3.61 last year when it had the third-lowest ERA in the majors. The Indians also have the fourth-most errors and the eighth-most unearned runs allowed in baseball.
Cleveland heads into Sunday’s game 18 games behind the first-place Detroit Tigers in the division.
“My job is to get these guys going,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “You’re always looking for something. You keep looking until you find it.”
Cleveland has lost three of four, including Saturday’s 7-3 defeat to the Orioles (40-49).
Catcher Ramon Hernandez was 2-for-5, and his two-run single in the fourth inning put Baltimore up 7-1. Cleveland rallied in the eighth with three runs and had two runners on base with two outs in the ninth, but Ben Broussard grounded out to end the game.
“This is a humbling game,” said Indians starter Jeremy Sowers, who allowed seven runs in 3 2-3 innings. “It’s a matter of guys taking advantage of mistakes I made. I left the ball up all night in key situations.”
Cleveland will hand the ball to Jake Westbrook (7-4, 4.09 ERA) to close out the first half of the season.
The right-hander won his most recent start on Tuesday against the New York Yankees, pitching seven innings and giving up one unearned run. He struck out three while allowing three walks in the 19-1 win, the team’s largest at home since a 21-2 victory over the Philadelphia Athletics on June 18, 1950.
“The offense was great and I really feel like I was just throwing the ball in there and letting the defense take care of it,” said Westbrook, who hadn’t won since June 11. “It was fun to be a pitcher today.”
Westbrook is 2-2 with a 4.59 ERA in six appearances against the Orioles. He pitched 4 2-3 innings against them on April 19, giving up nine runs and 12 hits in an 18-9 loss.
Rodrigo Lopez (5-10, 6.92) was ripped for seven runs and nine hits in 4 1-3 innings in that game, and he’ll be Westbrook’s opponent again on Sunday. Lopez is 1-2 with a 4.64 ERA in eight appearances against the Indians.
The right-hander has lost his last two starts. His most recent was on Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox when he gave up nine runs in 2 2-3 innings of a 13-0 defeat.
Saturday’s win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Orioles.