Last season, a hot streak in the second half of August began the key stretch that earned the Cleveland Indians the AL Central title. This year, all it’s doing is giving the Indians some pride - and perhaps some optimism for 2009.
Cleveland will look to extend its longest winning streak of the season to seven on Sunday night, also hoping to complete its first three-game sweep at Texas in more than 35 years.
While battling for a playoff spot in 2007, the Indians won eight straight games from Aug. 25-Sept. 1, part of a torrid 31-12 run to finish the season.
This week’s six-game streak - which gives Cleveland 12 wins in its last 15 games - has only drawn the club within 12 1/2 games of division-leading Minnesota and wild card-leading Boston.
Still, the Indians (61-67) erased a six-run deficit in Saturday’s 8-7 road victory over the Rangers, responding to Texas’ six-run fourth inning with six of their own in the top of the fifth to tie the game at 7. They went ahead on Jamey Carroll’s RBI single in the eighth.
Cleveland has scored at least seven runs in each of its last five contests. Fort Worth native Kelly Shoppach, who came into the game 3-for-15 with nine strikeouts in his career in Arlington, hit a three-run home run Saturday, his third homer in his last three games.
“I’ve never played well here, so it was nice,” Shoppach said. “I told myself to play like I did when I was a kid. It was a very pleasing day.”
The Indians have also been pleased with Anthony Reyes (2-1, 2.60 ERA) since he was acquired last month in a trade from St. Louis. The right-hander, who has never faced Texas, has allowed two or fewer runs in each of his three starts, beating Kansas City on Tuesday after giving up two runs in five innings of Cleveland’s 9-4 win.
“I’m throwing strikes and happy with what I’m doing,” Reyes said. “I got into a lot of bad habits the last couple of years and I’m working on them.”
Texas (63-67) will counter with Vicente Padilla, its only pitcher with more than seven wins. But Padilla (12-7, 4.96) has lost consecutive starts, giving up 11 runs in 10 innings in those games.
Coming off nine days of rest due to a shoulder problem, the right-hander had given up just one run through six innings against Detroit on Tuesday, but that quickly changed in the seventh. He allowed a walk, a single and two home runs without recording an out in what ended up a nine-run inning during an 11-3 loss.
He has given up six runs in each of his last three outings against the Indians, carrying a 7.09 ERA in five career starts against them.
The Rangers have pitched poorly for much of August, losing 13 of their last 16. Their beleaguered staff, which easily ranks last in the majors with a 5.42 ERA, has been especially bad during the club’s current funk, with a 6.60 ERA and .317 opponent batting average over that span.
They are now trying to avoid getting swept at home for the first time since April 11-15, when they lost five in a row to Toronto and the Los Angeles Angels.
Cleveland hasn’t swept three or more games in Arlington since Aug. 10-12, 1973 - during the Rangers’ second season in Texas. The Indians haven’t achieved the feat against the Rangers anywhere since Aug. 12-14, 1980 in Cleveland.