As the baseball season nears its midpoint, most of the teams contending for division titles were expected to be in the playoff hunt.
Two of the biggest surprises in baseball open a three-game interleague series in Arizona on Monday night.
One year ago Monday, Arizona was 30-46, last place in the NL West and 15 1/2 games out of first. Cleveland occupied the AL Central basement, 13 1/2 games off the pace with a 27-47 record. The Diamondbacks and Indians finished 2010 with a combined 190 losses and 52 games out of first.
Despite dropping two of three in Detroit over the weekend, the Diamondbacks (43-36) are only 1 1/2 games behind of West-leading San Francisco. However, Sunday’s loss was especially discouraging, as the Tigers scored seven runs with two outs in the eighth inning to beat Arizona 8-3.
It was a surprisingly poor performance by a bullpen that has been emblematic of the club’s overall turnaround. Arizona’s relievers have a 3.92 ERA after posting a 5.74 ERA last season, the seventh-worst in baseball since 1946.
“You just have to roll with the punches in a game like this,” said Chris Young, who leads the Diamondbacks with 15 homers and 42 RBIs. “It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last. You have games like this, and you have to move on.”
The Indians (40-36) arrive in Arizona one game behind first-place Detroit in the Central after being swept by the Giants in a weekend series. Cleveland, which is missing slugger Shin-Soo Choo(notes) (broken left thumb) and is not using designated hitter Travis Hafner(notes) in NL parks, totaled four runs and 13 hits in the three games in San Francisco.
“We’re not a run-scoring machine right now, especially without Hafner and Choo going down,” manager Manny Acta said after Sunday’s 3-1 loss. “We needed to take advantage of all our opportunities, which we didn’t do. It’s going to get better.”
It could be tough for Cleveland to get its offense back on track against Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy(notes) (8-2, 2.90 ERA), who allowed one run and eight hits in six innings of Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Kansas City.
Kennedy, 7-1 with a 2.16 ERA in his last nine starts, is one victory away from matching his single-season high, set last year. Another strong showing would also improve the right-hander’s chances of being on the NL pitching staff for the July 12 All-Star Game at Chase Field.
In his only other start against the Indians on April 26, 2008, Kennedy allowed three runs in five innings of a 4-3 loss for the New York Yankees but didn’t receive a decision.
Cleveland counters with Mitch Talbot(notes) (2-4, 4.91), who gave up three runs and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings of Monday’s 4-3 loss to Colorado. He didn’t get a decision, though, snapping his personal three-start losing streak.
Talbot has been hurt by the long ball and a lack of run support lately. The right-hander has surrendered seven homers in his last four outings while receiving three total runs from the Indians’ lineup.
Talbot, who is 1-1 with a 2.66 ERA in his last three interleague starts, will be facing Arizona for the first time.
This is the first meeting between these teams since 2005, when the Indians swept three games in Cleveland.