NY Yankees @ Cleveland Indians Series Preview

Coming off two straight late comeback wins over Boston, the New York Yankees hope to stay hot as they travel to Cleveland to face the Indians for a 2-game series starting Tuesday. By virtue of the weekend wins over Boston, the Yankees improved to 62-36 and opened a season-high 4-game lead over the Red Sox in the AL East. New York has won 5 of its last 6 games, all by one run. In that stretch, only one game was won by a starter, and the bullpen won the other four, including two by Steve Karsay.

While the Yankees have gotten hot, the Indians, a perennial playoff team and pennant contender, have tailed off dramatically, losing six of seven to fall to a season-worst 12 games under .500 (43-55) and stand 15 games behind Minnesota in the AL Central. All this has come after a promising start in which the Indians went 11-1 to open the season.

Over the seven games, Cleveland has averaged six runs per game, but has been outscored 52-42. Pitching has been the major culprit in the latest slide, not surprising after the Indians traded away ace Bartolo Colon and veteran lefty Chuck Finley.

New York holds a 5-2 season series lead, sweeping three games in New York on July 2-4 and splitting four games at Cleveland right after the All-Star break. The losses came to the two Yankees starters Tuesday and Wednesday, lefties Andy Pettitte and David Wells.

Both teams come into the series nursing significant injuries. The Yankees have Roger Clemens on the DL and may be without closer Mariano Rivera, who has a mild muscle strain in the back of his right shoulder and is day-to-day. Meanwhile, Indians' slugger Jim Thome has missed the team's last four games with stiffness in his lower back, OF Matt Lawton is on the DL with a strained left calf and 3B Travis Fryman went on the DL Saturday with a sore right shoulder.

The fact that the team has been hitting even without Thome, Lawton and Fryman is surprising. The trio rank first, fourth and fifth in home runs and RBIs. Even more surprising has been the offensive production of Gold Glover Omar Vizquel, who leads the team with a .299 batting average and already has a career high in homers (12), as well as 53 RBIs.

PITCHING MATCHUPS


Tuesday's opener sends Andy Pettitte against Cleveland's most consistent starter, right-hander Danys Baez. Pettitte (4-3, 3.50) has strung two solid starts together for the first time since his two-month layoff with shoulder problems. After beating Cleveland on July 11 with seven innings of six-hit ball, allowing only an unearned run, Pettitte shut down Detroit in his last start, going the distance in a 2-1 win last Wednesday.

Baez (7-7, 4.22) looked good against the Yankees in his July 12 start, giving up one run and five hits while striking out eight in seven innings in a game eventually won by the Indians, 2-1. Before his last start, a rough 5 2/3 innings, 10-hit, five-run effort in a loss to Minnesota last Wednesday, Baez had allowed more than four runs in a start only once all season.

The short series concludes Wednesday night with New York's David Wells facing Indians rookie Ryan Drese. Wells (10-5, 3.78) has two wins against Cleveland in 2002 despite not pitching well in either game, giving up 10 runs and 20 hits in 13 2/3 innings. But the Yankees scored 25 runs in the two wins, 11-8 and 14-5. Wells pitched better his last time out, getting a no-decision Thursday in the Yankees' 6-5 win over Detroit with 6 1/3 innings of seven-hit, three-run pitching, striking out seven.

Drese (8-7, 6.40) will start for the third time against the Yankees. In a no-decision, he gave up just three runs and three hits in six innings of a July 2 10-5 loss, but in his next start, only July 13, Drese surrendered eight earned runs on eight hits, including two homers, in just 1 1/3 innings of a 14-5 loss.

SERIES NOTES


Clemens threw 120 pitches Sunday in Tampa without any problems with the right groin injury that sidelined him. The Yankees' ace is eligible to come off the DL next Monday and will likely throw a rehab start later this week in Florida. …. Another of the walking wounded, OF Raul Mondesi, started Sunday and was 1-for-3 with two walks. Mondesi has checked himself into the hospital Thursday with recurring chest pains, but a CT scan was negative. …. Pitcher Orlando Hernandez dropped his appeal of a five-game suspension for hitting Carlos Delgado of Toronto with a pitch after making his regular start Saturday. He's eligible to return Friday. …. The dismantling of the once-strong Indians may not be over. Besides Colon and Finley, and utilityman Jolbert Cabrera, who was traded to the Dodgers Monday, Cleveland has potential free agent Thome and high-priced regulars Vizquel and Ellis Burks available to deal.



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