Series Preview: Indians (41-53) @ Yankees (57-36)

The Yankees start off the second half of their season with a four-game series against the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees and Indians faced off a week ago at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, where the Tribe took two out of three games. This series will be on the Yankees' home turf, and the Bronx Bombers will be looking to start the second half off right.

Cleveland has looked like a different team lately, winning seven of their last eleven games. They still have a poor record at 41-53, but this team is capable of doing some damage to even top-tier teams like the Yankees. The best example of this was their July 8 win over the Yanks. Rookie Billy Traber came within a soft single of a perfect game. It is brilliant performances like this that come out of virtually nowhere and throw people off. Few saw Traber coming on that night – he had never pitched a game like that in his life – but it happened. When a team is loaded with as many rookie players as the Indians are, it makes for surprising and exciting baseball at times.

The Yanks closed out their first half with a series victory at Toronto, taking two of the three games despite no outscoring the Blue Jays. Jeff Weaver pulled out his most impressive start of the year on Sunday, and he'll get a chance to keep up the roll that he's on.

The Yankees were in a bit of a slide before facing the Blue Jays. That series victory was just the first for the Yankees since sweeping the Mets in four games from June 27 to 29. The returns of key players Bernie Williams and Antonio Osuna, as well as the new arrival of setup man Armando Benitez, will hopefully make the Yanks a better team for the stretch run. Nick Johnson is also expected back sometime in the next two weeks.

I predicted a series victory for the Yankees the last time they faced the Indians, and the Tribe showed me up. The Yankee veteran starters are rested now, and the Yanks are back home. With Bernie Williams back in the middle of the order, and less worry about the bullpen blowing things, the Yankees once again should take at least two of four from the Indians. But I've been wrong before.

Yankees Home Record: 25-19
Indians Road Record: 19-28

Probable Pitchers:

Thursday: Jason Davis (7-7, 4.60) vs. Andy Pettitte (11-6, 4.63)

Davis was brilliant in his last outing against the Yankees, outdueling the Rocket for six innings and helping his team to an eventual 3-2 victory over the Yanks. Davis has been inconsistent at best this season – in the outing before his last, he went just 2 1/3 innings – but has shown signs of being effective. He doesn't walk a lot of batters, but he has been prone to the long ball. This will be his first career start in Yankee Stadium.
Pettitte has won six straight decisions dating back to June 14. His last win wasn't pretty, he yielded five runs against the Blue Jays, but it was a victory nonetheless. Pettitte hasn't faced the Indians yet this season, but he is just 5-7 with a 4.62 ERA against them for his career.

Friday: Brian Anderson (7-6, 4.13) vs. Roger Clemens (8-6, 3.68)
Anderson will be pitching on six-days rest for this start, something that isn't guaranteed to help a pitcher. He faced the White Sox in his last start, and allowed five runs – two earned – in five innings while picking up a win. Anderson, like most of his mates in the rotation, has been inconsistent this year. He has flashed signs of brilliance, but also some of fallibility. That being said, he is on a four-decision win streak, a span of six starts in which he has a 2.84 ERA.
Clemens was involved in a pitcher's duel in his last outing with Jason Davis. He lasted seven innings and allowed only two earned runs, but he didn't factor in the division as the Yankee bullpen blew the game. In 43 career starts against the Indians, Clemens is 23-8 with a 3.16 ERA.

Saturday: C.C. Sabathia (8-4, 3.23) vs. David Wells (11-3, 3.76)
For all of Sabathia's talent, he's still just a young guy playing a man's game. He often has trouble keeping his focus when he needs it the most – against big-time teams. He sports terrible career numbers against the Yankees: a 1-5 record with a 7.28 ERA. And in his last start against them, he walked a career-high six batters and admitted he was overthrowing. Sabathia needs to calm down if he's going to have a chance at getting to the Yanks.
Wells was on a six-start unbeaten streak before slamming into the Red Sox on July 4, getting tagged for eight runs and five homeruns in 5 2/3 innings. He rebounded nicely in his next outing, shutting down the Indians for 7 2/3 innings and not walking a batter for the thirteenth time this season. He only struck out one batter in that game, a sign that his curveball wasn't as effective as normal. Wells has also been more hittable this year than before. He has allowed at least six hits in all but three of his starts this year, allowing double-digit hits on five occasions.

Notes:
The Indians will be without Matt Lawton for a few weeks after he dislocated a finger on July 12. Lawton was the Indians' hottest hitter, and the offense will sorely miss him … Former Yankee Shane Spencer will likely see increased playing time in Lawton's absence, and a start against lefties Pettitte and Wells wouldn't be surprising … Cleveland demoted 2B Brandon Phillips on July 14 after hitting just .210 this season … Raul Mondesi is still questionable after experiencing tendonitis in his left wrist … RHP Dan Miceli is also questionable after being hit on the leg by a batted ball in his last appearance.

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