Just three games out of first place in the American League Central, the Cleveland Indians try to finish the first half of the 2012 campaign strong as they take on the Tampa Bay Rays in the third game of a four-game set at Progressive Field.
The only team in the Central other than division-leader Chicago which is above .500 heading into play on Saturday, the Indians have to be a bit surprised with where they are right now considering they have scored 32 fewer runs than the competition over the first 83 games of the campaign.
On Friday that trend held true as the Tribe suffered a 10-3 loss at the hands of Tampa Bay. Starting pitcher Justin Masterson was dealt his eighth loss of the season as he permitted eight runs on nine hits and four walks, striking out seven, in just 4 1/3 innings of action for the hosts.
Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera both tallied a pair of hits and scored once for the Indians, the third run coming from ageless veteran Johnny Damon.
The Rays, just 4-6 in the last 10 games as they've fallen seven games off the pace in the AL East, they were paced by Ben Zobrist who tallied his 11th home run of the season and knocked in three runs. Luke Scott, Jose Lobaton and Elliot Johnson each recorded a pair of RBI, while B.J. Upton had three hits and scored twice for the visitors who not only posted 13 hits overall, but also worked nine bases-on-balls as well.
Alex Cobb was credited with his fourth win of the season for the Rays, permitting three runs on six hits and a pair of walks. Cobb also fanned four batters in six innings of work.
"It was great to score the runs, but still, Cleveland in Cleveland is never comfortable," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's not a comfortable place. You've seen us blow leads here in the past. As a member of the Angels, I've seen it done also. There's something about the joint that really promotes late-inning rallies on their part, so I was not comfortable until the last out was made, quite frankly."
In an effort to go into the All-Star break on a positive note, Cleveland hurler Ubaldo Jimenez takes the hill for the hosts this evening. Jimenez, a loser of two straight and three of his last four decisions overall, has a .500 record of just 7-7 at the moment and his ERA remains a hefty 4.59 even though it has been coming down for the most part.
Jimenez last took the field earlier this week when he gave up three earned runs on eight hits and four walks, striking out four over 7 2/3 innings, but he failed to get any run support of his own in what became a 3-0 setback to the Angels at home.
This game marks just the second all-time appearance for Jimenez versus Tampa Bay, the first having been a victory for the hurler.
As for the Rays, they have Matt Moore penciled in as their starter. The Florida native is in just his second year in the majors, yet he is flying high on a four-game win streak at the moment.
Moore, who is getting his first-ever look at Cleveland tonight, went up against New York in his most recent outing on Monday and gave up just three runs on nine hits and three walks, striking out three, over seven innings of action in a 4-3 home triumph for the Rays.
Scott, who delivered a two-run homer for the Rays last night, had been struggling mightily at the plate over the last month and was coming dangerously close to setting a new record for futility by a non-pitcher. Suffering from one of the longest droughts in major league history, before his blast Scott had gone hitless in 41 straight at-bats, just five short of the all-time mark set by Bill Bergen in 1909.
"What did it feel like? Take a 300 pound gorilla and pull it off my back. It's just been a lot of weight and a lot of pressure. I hope this is the start of getting back on track," said Scott.
Despite watching his batting average fall below .200 (.194) through the 59 games in which he has participated, Scott still somehow leads the team in RBI with 38 even though he has just 40 hits on the campaign.
One of the weakest hitting teams in the AL at .233, Tampa Bay's top-hitting regular is Upton who is batting a mere .249.