The sputtering co-leaders begin a key two-game series Tuesday night when the Indians (65-53) welcome the Tigers (65-53) to Jacobs Field.
Cleveland is tied for third in the AL with 37 home wins while Detroit has a major league leading 35 victories away from Comerica Park. But in spite of their respective successes, neither team has been playing lately as if it wants to advance to the playoffs.
The Indians are coming off a three-game sweep at home in which they were outscored 22-6 by the streaking New York Yankees. Cleveland is 13-17 since the All-Star break, and is hitting just .229 while averaging 3.4 runs since July 23.
“It’s been a tough stretch here lately, but if we can bounce back there’s still a lot of ball to be played,” said Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore, who’s struck out 13 times in his last 10 games and leads the AL with 123. “We’re still in a good spot. We haven’t been playing the way we want, but we’ve still got time and we still have an opportunity to do some great things this year.”
With a 7-2 loss to Oakland on Monday, the Tigers have dropped 13 of their last 18 and have a staff ERA of 6.35 during that dismal stretch.
“If anybody thinks we’re going to win anything playing and pitching like this, they’re out of their minds,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “I’m not negative. I’m one of the most positive people in the world. But if we don’t play and pitch better, we ain’t going to win.”
Facing Jeremy Bonderman (10-5, 4.75 ERA) may help Cleveland jump-start its lackluster offense.
After going 10-1 with a 3.53 ERA for the defending AL champions to start 2007, the right-hander will try to end a four-start skid in which he’s simply been abysmal. Bonderman has yielded 29 runs in just 22 1/3 innings for an 11.28 ERA during his skid.
He last pitched Thursday against lowly Tampa Bay, and was lit up for seven runs and 10 hits in six innings of an 8-1 loss. Bonderman did not speak with reporters after the game, but continues to have Leyland’s unwavering support.
“He’s the least of my worries,” the manager said. “He’s one of my horses and I’ll stick by him.”
Bonderman got the win in Detroit’s 9-2 rout at Cleveland on June 3 by giving up two runs over 6 2-3 innings, but is just 7-9 with a 6.06 ERA in 19 career starts against the Indians.
Cleveland’s C.C. Sabathia (14-6, 3.52) will make his fourth start of the year against the Tigers, and also looks to join Boston’s Josh Beckett and John Lackey of the Los Angeles Angels as the only 15-game winners in the majors.
Sabathia has surrendered 15 runs and 26 hits in just 18 1/3 innings versus Detroit this year, but has gone 2-1. The left-hander also will try to even his overall home record against the Tigers—he’s 5-6 with a 5.13 ERA in 12 career starts.
Sabathia, though, has lost his last three home starts despite allowing one earned run in each of his last two appearances there, and he’s never dropped four straight starts at Jacobs Field during his seven-year career.
He pitched well Wednesday on the road against the Chicago White Sox by giving up two runs and six hits over seven innings of a 6-4 loss in 13.
Detroit’s Magglio Ordonez - the majors’ leading hitter with a .356 average - batted .563 (9-for-17) with three homers, 10 RBIs and five runs as the Tigers split their four-game set with the A’s. The right fielder is 3-for-9 with just two RBIs this season against Sabathia.
The Indians have dropped four of their last five to the Tigers after taking the first five meetings from them.