It appears the Cleveland Indians are turning the corner and sit on the doorstep of the top spot in the American League Central.
The Indians look to keep heading in the right direction tonight in the middle portion of a three-game interleague series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. They handed the Cardinals a 6-2 loss in Friday's series opener behind a two-run homer from Johnny Damon and seven strong innings by starting pitcher Josh Tomlin.
Tomlin allowed two runs and eight hits to even his record at 3-3. Joe Smith and Nick Hagadone threw a scoreless inning of relief apiece.
"I didn't need to prove anything, but I just wanted to come out and pitch as well as I could for as long as I could," said Tomlin. "I think I needed that tonight, it was huge for me."
Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley each had two hits, an RBI and a run scored for the Indians, who are just one-half game behind the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central lead and have won three of four since losing seven of nine. Brantley extended his hitting streak to 16 games. He is 22-for-61 with 15 RBI and 11 runs scored during the stretch, and had a 19-game hitting streak from Aug. 30-Sept. 19, 2010.
Cleveland is 3-1 on a nine-game road trip.
Justin Masterson has been able to give Cleveland innings, but wins are a different story. Masterson gets the nod again tonight and has lost three of his last four decisions, including a 6-3 loss to Minnesota on June 3. The right-hander and Opening Day starter pitched a decent six innings and yielded three runs to fall to 2-5 in 12 starts with a 5.09 ERA.
Masterson, who has lasted six or more innings in eight straight trips to the hill, is 1-2 in four road starts this season and has never faced St. Louis.
The opener of a nine-game homestand didn't go as planned for the defending champion Cardinals, as they lost for the 10th time in the last 15 tries to fall three games off the lead in the National League Central.
St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook was facing his former team for the first time and was reached for four runs -- three earned -- and eight hits in six innings to absorb the loss. Westbrook spent nine-plus seasons with the Tribe before coming to St. Louis via a three-team, four-player deal in July of 2010. Westbrook, who went 2-0 with a 2.73 earned run average against the AL Central last year, is 0-4 in his last six starts overall.
"When you don't perform as well as you think you're capable of it's frustrating," said Westbrook. "I need to make some adjustments here and get back on track."
Yadier Molina went 3-for-4 with a run scored, while Matt Adams hit a two-run single for the Cardinals, who had won two straight and three of four. Molina is 18-for-43 with two home runs and nine RBI in his last 12 games. Reigning World Series MVP David Freese was 0-for-4 versus the Tribe, one night after homering twice and driving in six runs in a 14-2 bashing of Houston.
When Kyle Lohse records his next decision, the Cardinals obviously hope it will be a win. Lohse hasn't recorded a decision since defeating Arizona on the road back on May 9 and draws the start tonight. Lohse has gone five straight starts without a decision and last took the hill in Monday's 5-4 win against the New York Mets in which he fired six innings of one-run ball.
Lohse had allowed at least two runs in each of his past four starts before getting back to business against the Mets. He is 5-1 on the season with a 3.21 earned run average in 12 starts and 1-0 in four outings at Busch Stadium. The right-hander, who spent six-plus seasons with Minnesota to begin his career, has faced Cleveland 23 times (17 starts) and owns a 7-9 record to go along with a 5.89 ERA.
Cleveland and St. Louis are meeting for the first time since the Indians won two of three meetings at home back in 2009. Cleveland has gone 13-5 all-time against St. Louis, which includes a 7-3 mark as the guest. The Indians are the only Major League team that St. Louis has never won a series against.