The Cleveland Indians' sizzling offense has been a major reason for the team's solid stretch over the last week. Cleveland seeks its fifth victory in its last six games when it hosts Tampa Bay in the opener of a four-game series Thursday night. The Indians (42-39) have outscored opponents 38-18 over their last five contests after beating the Los Angeles Angels 12-3 on Wednesday, as each starter recorded at least one hit.
Michael Brantley and Casey Kotchman each hit a three-run homer for Cleveland, which has averaged 7.6 runs while hitting .342 in its last seven games. Shin-Soo Choo is 12 for 27 (.444) over his last six. Johnny Damon had a season-high three hits. The veteran batted .261 in 150 games for Tampa Bay in 2011, and his former team isn't playing nearly as well as his current squad lately. The Rays (43-39) have dropped 7 of their last 10 and could not complete the sweep on Wednesday of the Yankees falling 4-3 thanks to a 2 run hit in the 8th inning by Robinson Cano. The Rays trail the Yanks by 6.5 games in the AL East in third place. Tampa Bay has won will look to get its offense going against Indians starter Josh Tomlin, who hasn't pitched well recently.
Tomlin (4-5, 5.85 ERA) got a lift Saturday from his offense, which helped him score an 11-5 win over Baltimore after he allowed five runs and seven hits while issuing a season-high three walks in six innings. The right-hander is 1-2 with an 8.24 ERA over his last four starts, allowing at least five runs in three of those outings. He went 0-1 with a 5.25 ERA in two starts versus the Rays in 2011 in his only career outings against them.
Jeremy Hellickson will oppose Tomlin hoping to stay healthy while getting back in the win column. Hellickson (4-4, 3.44) is 0-4 with a 4.45 ERA in his last six starts since beating Boston on May 16. He left Saturday's 6-2 loss to Detroit in the third inning, when he took a line drive off his right shin. Hellickson, who was making his first start since a stint on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, said he's ready for Thursday's outing despite some lingering pain. The right-hander allowed three hits in seven innings of a 7-0 win over the Indians on May 29, 2011, in his only career start against them, but he's well aware of Cleveland's recent hot hitting.
Understandably the way the Tribe has been putting up runs and hits as of late combined with a golden opportunity for the Rays to snap out of their offensive woes has generated a fairly pricey line this evening. Tomlin has yielded 12 ER over his last 15 IP (7.20) and while clutch hitting and inconsistent run production has been an achilles heel in Tampa over the past few seasons, the Rays could sure use a shot in the arm this evening to increase their .232 batting average as we head near the ASB. Carlos Pena has appeared in nearly every game this season but still has not been able to hit his weight (.199 13 36) despite leading the team in HR and sharing the wealth in RBI. With Matt Joyce (.279 11 34) on the shelf due to strained oblique muscle issues until at least the ASB, the Rays must look to Ben Zobrist (.251 10 33) who hit .364 in June looking to pick up where he left off. Luke Scott (.197 9 36) looks to come back strong in the second half but its clear that Tampa misses Evan Longoria who continues to sit with a hamstring injury not to mention the continuing underachiements from BJ Upton (.245 6 27). Meanwhile Cleveland trails the first place Chicago White Sox in the Central Division by just 2 games. Jason Kipnis (.276 11 49) and Asdrubal Cabrera (.293 11 42) have led the way for the Tribe who have seen their overall batting increase to around .258 collectively. Sin Shoo Choo (.292 8 31) has also shown vast improvement over the last few weeks, while Kotchman and Brantley have also fit in well right into the mix. If not for Tampa's pitching they could very well be out of the race, but Hellickson will look to regain some consistency against an Indians core that is hitting their way back into contention. We look to hit our 4th straight this evening. Best of luck however you play!