The Indians will look to make it six straight victories and 20 in their last 22 games versus the Rays as the teams continue their series at Tropicana Field on Tuesday.
While the surprising Rays (66-45) have surged to the top of the AL East after spending nearly their entire existence at the bottom, the disappointing Indians (49-62) have slumped into the AL Central cellar after coming within one win of the World Series last year.
But in head-to-head play, both clubs have looked just like their predecessors. Cleveland had won 14 of 16 against Tampa Bay entering this season, and after sweeping a four-game series at Progressive Field leading up to the All-Star break, it continued its run with a 5-2 victory in St. Petersburg on Monday.
That ended the Rays’ five-game winning streak overall. Tampa Bay, which still leads Boston by three games in the East, has not lost consecutive home games since dropping three straight there from April 14-18.
The Indians are the only AL team the Rays have not beaten this season, as Tampa Bay’s pitching has failed to deliver against Cleveland. Rays pitchers have a 7.68 ERA versus the Indians, nearly three runs worse than they’ve been against any other opponent.
Cleveland, meanwhile, has 11 home runs and is hitting .320 in five games against the Rays—69 points above their season average of .251, which ranks 13th in the AL.
“For some reason we play really well against these guys,” said Indians outfielder David Dellucci, who homered in his second straight game Monday.
One pitcher the Indians have not beaten this year is Edwin Jackson, who didn’t pitch in last month’s series. Jackson (7-7, 4.20 ERA) made three starts against Cleveland last year, going 0-1 despite a 3.00 ERA.
The right-hander comes in having won consecutive starts for the first time since his first two outings of the season. He pitched five-plus innings and gave up two runs in a 5-3 win at Kansas City on July 25, then allowed two runs in five innings of a 3-2 win at Toronto Wednesday.
Fausto Carmona (5-3, 4.19) will be on the mound for the Indians, coming off his first victory since May 12. The right-hander spent more than two months on the disabled list and struggled in his return on July 26, but he gave up four runs—two earned—and five hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 9-4 win over Detroit on Thursday.
“I was more aggressive in the strike zone,” Carmona said. “I was more relaxed. I had a different feeling on the mound.”
Carmona has never started a game at Tropicana Field, but he pitched well against Tampa Bay in his only start against them, allowing one earned run and four hits while striking out eight in six innings of a 10-2 win on July 2, 2007.
The teams finish their season series Wednesday afternoon. The Indians have never swept the Rays in a season series.