In football, a clash between Cleveland and Pittsburgh teams would classify as a huge rivalry game.
But in baseball, while a series between the Indians and Pirates makes for a fun regional matchup, the teams enter their three-game interleague set in Pittsburgh in different places.
Both teams have had to navigate through a series of injuries and considerable roster turnover, but Cleveland has weathered it better. The Indians, playing without four of their original five starters plus designated hitter Franmil Reyes, have won six of their last seven after posting a 10-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday.
The Indians have remained in contention for the American League Central title.
“Nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “If we pull together, we have a chance to have some fun figuring out ways to win, as opposed to woe is us. We might have to get a little creative.”
The Indians will be jumping from one struggling opponent to another. Baltimore has lost eight in a row. Pittsburgh has lost 10 in a row for the first time since July 29-Aug. 7, 2011.
The Pirates haven’t been blown out for most of the skid. Nine of those 10 games have been decided by no more than three runs, two of them by one run.
Still, they came trudging home after an 0-6 road trip. Pittsburgh is in contention for last place overall in the majors and was downtrodden enough to be grateful for a day off Thursday.
“It’s a tough time,” Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds said. “When things start going south, you might tend to mess with your approach a little bit. I think the day off will be good for us to reset, clear our minds and formulate a good plan for the upcoming series.”
Already, Pittsburgh has tried juggling its lineup in recent games.
“There’s no magic elixir,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “If there was I’d be using it already. Just keep going.”
In the opener Friday, Cleveland right-hander J.C. Mejia (1-1, 4.26 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh righty Chad Kuhl (0-4, 6.52).
Mejia, who has not faced the Pirates, will be making his seventh appearance and fourth start this season.
On Monday, Mejia pitched a season-high four innings against Baltimore. He gave up two runs and four hits with one walk and three strikeouts.
Kuhl is coming off a loss Saturday at Milwaukee. He surrendered six runs (five earned) and five hits with four walks and two strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings.
After struggling with his control in that game, Kuhl raised some eyebrows when he blamed the condition of the baseballs. He said they were not rubbed up enough, affecting the grip.
“I think we got pretty much pearls,” Kuhl said. “They were bad. I mean, we’ve had bad baseballs for the first part of the year. They were really super chalky. … So tough to get your stuff to spin and stuff like that with pearls, with brand-new baseballs.”
Kuhl has yet to face Cleveland in his career.
–Field Level Media