The New York Yankees are the hottest team in baseball since the All-Star break, and Cleveland seems helpless to slow them down.
The Yankees try for their second three-game sweep of the AL Central-leading Indians this season when the teams wrap up their set at Jacobs Field on Sunday.
The Yankees (65-51) have won their last seven games against the Indians (65-52), including all five this season. They swept a three-game set at Yankee Stadium April 17-19 and are trying for their first three-game sweep in Cleveland since May 1-3, 2000.
New York has gone a major league-best 22-8 since the All-Star break and is within five games of AL East-leading Boston after trailing by as many as 14 1/2 on May 29.
“It’s a good feeling, but a controlled feeling,” said third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who hit a pair of two-run homers Saturday. “We realize we’ve got a lot of work ahead and haven’t accomplished anything.”
Rodriguez, who finished the night with 503 career homers, has connected at least once in all five games against the Indians this season and is 7-for-20 (.350) with six homers against them in 2007. He said that he is feeling much more relaxed since becoming the youngest player to hit his 500th on Aug. 4.
“No question,” he said. “It’s good to get that 500th home run out of the way and get back to playing baseball.”
Catcher Jorge Posada was out of the lineup for the second straight game but is expected to start in the finale. He had just three hits in 14 at-bats in his five games before sitting out.
The Yankees pounded out 19 hits and scored at least six runs for the 10th time in 12 games. The Indians, meanwhile, have scored two or fewer in five of their last eight, but still hold a half-game lead over second-place Detroit in the AL Central.
“When I made a bad pitch, they hit it in the bleachers or crushed it over the shortstop’s head,” Cleveland starter Paul Byrd said. “They’re hot right now. They’re not the same team that took the field in April and May.”
The Indians are 13-16 since the break and have dropped 10 of their last 13 at home. However, they’ve been missing one of their big bats. Travis Hafner, who has 18 homers, has not played since Wednesday because of a strained left knee and is expected to be out of the lineup a few more days.
Cleveland will hand the ball to former Yankee Jake Westbrook (3-6, 5.00 ERA), who has won two straight starts after going winless in his previous eight. He allowed just one run and two hits in a season-high eight innings in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Chicago White Sox, improving to 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA over his last three starts.
“I feel really good about where I am. It’s a matter of me going out there and continue to put up consistent outings,” said Westbrook, who won 44 games in his previous three seasons. “It feels good to get back to contributing to this team.”
The win was Westbrook’s first this season on the road, where he owns a 7.01 ERA. He is 2-3 with a 3.66 ERA in nine starts at Jacobs Field.
Westbrook is 2-3 with a 5.31 ERA in nine career outings, including six starts, against the Yankees. He was pounded for eight runs in just 1 2-3 innings in a 10-3 loss at Yankee Stadium on April 17.
New York counters with Andy Pettitte (8-7, 4.00), who has won back-to-back starts for the first time this season. The 35-year-old left-hander gave up three runs in 5 2-3 innings of Monday’s 5-4 win in Toronto, improving to 4-1 with a 3.29 ERA over his last six starts.
Pettitte, who spent three seasons in Houston before returning for a second stint with New York this season, made his 300th start for the Yankees and tied Waite Hoyt for eighth on the team’s victory list (157).
“It was another one of those gutsy outings where he just battled, battled, battled,” manager Joe Torre said.
Pettitte is 5-7 with a 4.66 ERA in 15 career starts against the Indians but has not faced them since July 17, 2003 in the final season of his first stint with the Yankees. He’s 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA in his last five starts at Jacobs Field.