Although June has just begun, the Cleveland Indians are starting to make it difficult for the defending American League champions to catch them.
Following a dramatic comeback victory, the AL Central-leading Indians look to stay perfect on the season against the second-place Detroit Tigers when they play the third game of their four-game series on Saturday night at Jacobs Field.
Cleveland (34-19) scored twice in the eighth inning and five times in the bottom of the ninth on Friday to stun the Tigers 12-11 and improve to 5-0 against its division foe.
“An incredible win,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “Everybody stepped up.”
Cleveland has won seven of its last nine games, with all five of its wins over Detroit (30-24) coming in that span. The Tigers had a half-game lead over the Indians before their season series began on May 25, but the Indians have quickly turned that deficit into a 4 1/2-game lead.
Cleveland also improved to a major league-best 15-4 in division play. While the Indians are surging, the reigning AL champion Tigers are stumbling, losing seven of eight.
Detroit closer Todd Jones blew his second straight save opportunity on Friday, giving up five runs and seven hits in one inning of work.
“We needed a win against these guys,” Jones said. “We needed a win for ourselves and I didn’t get it done. I just got crushed.”
Cleveland’s Ryan Garko had three hits and scored two runs on Friday, and is 7-for-15 (.467) in four games against Detroit this season.
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta went 3-for-5 with a two-run homer, and is batting .476 (10-for-21) against the Tigers.
Cliff Lee (2-2, 5.86 ERA) looks to lead Cleveland to another win when he takes the mound on Saturday, but he has struggled against Detroit lately.
Lee went 0-4 with a 4.75 ERA in five starts against the Tigers last season, and is 3-5 with a 4.92 ERA in 13 games lifetime against them.
After starting the season on the disabled list with an abdominal strain, Lee went 2-0 with a 4.15 ERA in his first four starts before giving up 11 runs in 9 1-3 innings in his last two. The left-hander struggled on Monday as he gave up three runs and six hits in five innings and was charged with a 5-3 loss at Boston.
Detroit counters with Chad Durbin (4-1, 4.39), who looks to keep his personal winning streak intact.
Durbin suffered his only loss in his season debut, and has gone 4-0 with a 2.38 ERA in his last seven starts. He has been stellar on the road lately, going 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his last five starts away from Comerica Park.
The right-hander is coming off yet another solid outing, allowing two runs and three hits in six innings on Monday in a 6-5 loss at Tampa Bay.
Durbin, who pitched for the Indians in 2003-04, is 3-3 with a 8.07 ERA in six games against them, but hasn’t faced Cleveland since 2001 with Kansas City.