Royals Preview at Cleveland

By: By AMY JO WALKER, STATS Writer
By: By AMY JO WALKER, STATS Writer

The Cleveland Indians are the best home team in the majors this season. They hope playing there again will help them bounce back from a disappointing stretch.

The Indians return to Jacobs Field on Friday night when they open a three-game series against the surging Kansas City Royals.

Cleveland has won five straight and eight of nine at home en route to a 31-12 record there this year. The Indians, who are starting a six-game homestand, have dominated the Royals recently by winning 13 of the last 16 at home.

A six-game winning streak gave Cleveland (52-36) a three-game AL Central lead over Detroit on July 3. But the Indians dropped four of five heading into the break including on Sunday, when they were limited to three hits in 1-0 loss to Toronto.

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The Indians remain optimistic heading into the second half of the season.

"From the beginning of the year, I haven't seen this team quit in any game," Indians closer Joe Borowski told the team's official Web site. "It doesn't matter if we're getting blown out by 10 or it's a one-run game. That shows you the character of this team. We never quit. Hopefully it will help us win some games."

Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez and C.C. Sabathia represented the Indians as the AL defeated the NL 5-4 in the All-Star game on Tuesday in San Francisco. Sizemore struck out in his only at-beat, but Martinez hit the 18th pinch homer in All-Star history and Sabathia pitched a scoreless inning.

Designated hitter Travis Hafner, who on Thursday finalized a four-year contract extension worth $57 million, is batting .300 (12-for-40) during a 10-game hitting streak. He's hitting just .262 this season after batting at least .305 each of the previous three years.

Hafner is 5-for-22 with a homer and three RBIs this season versus the Royals (38-50) this season, who closed out the first half strongly.

Kansas City won nine of 13 going into the break and totaled 20 runs in its final two victories over Tampa Bay, including a 12-4 win on Sunday.

Tony Pena Jr. drove in four runs and had three doubles in the victory, and is hitting .385 (10-for-26) during a seven-game hitting streak. Manager Buddy Bell said Pena's .281 overall average in his first season as a starting shortstop also has been a pleasant surprise.

"It is probably more than we expected," he said. "Tony's played great. He's been out there every day, almost every inning. He's got some big hits and made some big plays."

Kansas City, which is looking for its fifth straight road win, begins a nine-game swing on Friday with Odalis Perez (4-8, 5.68 ERA) on the mound.

The left-hander is coming off a 6-5 defeat at home to the Devil Rays on July 6, when he gave up five runs and a season high-tying 10 hits over six innings.

Perez is 0-1 with a 4.76 ERA in two games against Cleveland this season. Kansas City has won four of his last five road starts.

He will be opposed by Jake Westbrook (1-4, 6.27), who will make his fourth start since coming off the disabled list.

The right-hander is 0-2 with a 4.05 ERA since missing six weeks with a strained left abdominal muscle. He gave up five runs and a season-high 10 hits in a 6-4 defeat to Detroit on July 4.

Westbrook is 5-3 with a 2.41 ERA in 18 career games -- 12 starts -- versus the Royals.


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