Cliff Lee has been dominant as he pursues his first AL Cy Young Award, and much of that success is due to his outstanding pitching at home.
On Wednesday, Cleveland’s ace aims to remain perfect in 14 starts at Progressive Field as the Indians try to complete a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins, who are trying to reach the postseason.
Lee (22-2, 2.36 ERA) has won his last eight starts and 11 consecutive decisions - the longest streak by a Cleveland (74-77) pitcher since Gaylord Perry won 15 straight decisions in 1974.
The left-hander and owner of the majors’ lowest ERA could become the Indians’ second straight Cy Young Award winner following CC Sabathia, who was traded in July to Milwaukee.
“It’s not over yet,” said Lee, the first major league pitcher to reach 22 wins since Dontrelle Willis with Florida in 2005. “So far, it’s going pretty good. But I’m not going to start patting myself on the back yet.”
Lee will try to become the first 23-game winner since Barry Zito with Oakland and Curt Schilling with Arizona in 2002. To do so, Lee will have to continue his stellar play in Cleveland, where he is 10-0 with a 2.34 ERA over 13 starts - a span in which opposing batters have hit .248 against him.
Despite giving up four earned runs and a season high-tying 11 hits over 8 1-3 innings there on Friday, he came away with a 12-5 victory over Kansas City.
Lee hasn’t lost since July 6 at the Metrodome, and is 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA in three starts versus Minnesota (82-69) this year. He limited the Twins to two runs and six hits, while striking out 10 - one short of his season high - over eight innings of a 5-4 home victory on July 25.
He is 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA in 15 all-time matchups against the Twins, and 4-1 with a 3.43 ERA in seven home outings.
Lee takes the mound after Cleveland’s 12-9, 11-inning victory on Tuesday. The Indians squandered a seven-run lead before catcher Victor Martinez hit a three-run walkoff homer.
“I guess you can call it heartbreaking,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It’s a tough one to swallow. We’re snakebit.”
Meanwhile, the Twins are mired in a three-game skid, and are trying to avoid being swept by the Indians for the first time since losing three straight from Sept. 3-5, 2007 in Minneapolis.
Minnesota previously lost four in a row from Aug. 23-26, and Lee is probably the last pitcher it wants on the mound for Cleveland.
“You always look at your schedule to see who you’re going up against,” Gardenhire said. “He’s not one you want to see.”
The Twins also are concerned with reducing their 2 1/2-game deficit to the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox. The teams will meet for a crucial three-game series in Minnesota from Sept. 23-25.
Scott Baker (9-4, 3.57) takes the ball for the Twins in the series finale. Baker won the opener of a doubleheader sweep at Baltimore on Saturday, allowing a run and four hits over six innings of a 12-2 victory
The right-hander, who will be pitching on three days’ rest, is 3-5 with a 3.70 ERA in 10 all-time starts against the Indians. He allowed three runs and five hits, with five strikeouts over five innings of an 11-4 win at Cleveland on July 26.