Rays-Indians Preview

The Associated Press

The Cleveland Indians have a chance to head into the All-Star break with a fifth win in six games.

A rare series victory against the Tampa Bay Rays also will be within their grasp Sunday at Progressive Field.

Although the Indians (44-40) spent 35 consecutive days atop the AL Central, reaching the break in second place is a nice accomplishment for a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2007.

Since losing a season-high five straight, Cleveland has won seven of 10 and enters the final day of the first half three games behind the Chicago White Sox and 1 1/2 ahead of Detroit.

"Everybody should feel like they have a chance to win it, and I like that," manager Manny Acta told the Indians' official website. "People like to call it weak because one team is not running away with it and the rest of them are 20, 25 games out. That's not what baseball is all about, that's not the way it's supposed to be."

A victory in Sunday's finale would give the Indians their first series win against Tampa Bay (44-41) since a four-game sweep May 25-28, 2009. The Rays have won the last five series between the clubs.

Ubaldo Jimenez struck out eight over six innings and Shelley Duncan continued his power surge with a two-run homer to help the Indians win 7-3 on Saturday. Five of Cleveland's eight hits were doubles and the major league leaders in walks also received six free passes.

Duncan, whose wife gave birth to twin sons Thursday, has four homers and seven RBIs in his last six games.

The Rays have lost eight of 11 on the road after a 10-3 stretch away from Tropicana Field.

Luke Scott had two hits - including a home run - after ending a franchise-record hitless streak at 41 at-bats with a homer in Friday's 10-3 win.

"It's great to see a blooper fall for him,'' Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "Then he hit that ball well to center field. It's a confidence issue. As he gains more confidence, you're going to see him hit with more consistency.''

Although they pounded out 13 hits Friday, the Rays are batting .220 during a 4-9 stretch. They rank near the bottom of the AL in average (.232) and on-base percentage (.313).

Tampa Bay will try to avoid a fourth loss in five games behind James Shields (8-5, 4.11 ERA), who seeks to win consecutive starts for the first time since early May.

The right-hander pitched at least six innings for the 14th time in 17 outings Tuesday, allowing four runs and 10 hits over seven in a 7-4 victory over the Yankees.

Shields has allowed 24 hits in his past two starts - the most he's ever allowed in a two-game span.

He's posted a 3.83 ERA in eight career starts against the Indians, but has lost five of six decisions while receiving 2.44 runs of support per nine innings.

Several Indians have struggled against Shields. Jose Lopez is 3 for 24, Jack Hannahan has one hit in 16 at-bats and Casey Kotchman is 2 for 12.

Cleveland hopes to improve to 6-1 this season in games started by Zach McAllister (3-1, 3.93). The rookie right-hander overcame a throwing error and two home runs in the fifth inning of a 9-5 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday.

He allowed five runs - three earned - and eight hits to win for the second time in as many starts since he was recalled from Triple-A Columbus.

"He's not afraid,'' Acta said. "It was good to see a guy like that shake it off.''

McAllister has walked one and struck out 14 in his last three starts spanning 18 innings.

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