Series Preview #13: New York Yankees (23-13) at Cleveland Indians (20-15)

Plenty has changed for the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians since the two teams were rained out of half of their series in early April to open the home season at Progressive Field. They return to Cleveland Monday to squeeze in a traditional doubleheader as their respective division leaders.

The Yankees (23-13) have won five straight games and have sole possession of the AL East by one full game. They came to Cleveland the first time at 2-4 and scuffling. They left town after pummeling the Indians pitching staff for 25 runs in two games before Mother Nature called mercy on the home town crowd.

The Indians (20-15) return home for a one-day layover after taking two of three from the division-leading Detroit Tigers and pulling into a tie for the top spot in the AL Central. They have won four consecutive series after splitting four with the Royals and a pair with the White Sox. The offense has come to life since they scored seven runs against the Yankees in their two defeats to them over a month ago.

David Phelps and Justin Masterson will start for their ball clubs in the 12:05 PM ET first game. Phelps (1-1, 5.02 ERA) was hit with a no-decision in his last start against Colorado on Wednesday after allowing two runs and three hits in six innings. This will be his first career start against the Indians. Masterson (5-2, 3.67) allowed three runs on four hits against Oakland his last time out and earned the win. The Indians have won six of his eight starts this season.

Thirty minutes after the completion of the day’s first game, Vidal Nuno will pair up against Trevor Bauer. Nuno (0-0, 0.00), a former minor leaguer in the Indians system, made his major league debut on April 29th against Houston and worked three scoreless innings in relief, allowing four hits and striking out a pair. Bauer (1-1, 2.70) will make his third start of the season for Cleveland; he has allowed three runs and just three hits in ten innings over his first two appearances, despite walking 13. In his last start for Columbus on Tuesday, he had a no-hitter through six and two-thirds innings of a seven inning doubleheader game.

New York comes to Cleveland hot off the heels of a three-game sweep of the Royals over the weekend.

Lyle Overbay was 4-for-5 at the plate, hit his sixth home run of the season, and drove in five runs as they Yankees combined for 16 hits and defeated the Royals 11-6 on Friday. Phil Hughes (2-2) earned the win despite allowing six earned runs in five and two-thirds innings on the night. New York manager Joe Girardi won his 500th career game.

Andy Pettitte (4-2) pitched seven strong innings and struck out seven as the Yankees outlasted the Royals 3-2 on Saturday. Mariano Rivera earned his 14th save of the season. Vernon Wells gave New York the lead for good with a two-run home run in the fifth, his eighth of the season.

New York finished off the three-game sweep of Kansas City on Sunday, 4-2, thanks to the efforts of pitcher Hiroki Kuroda (5-2). He allowed two runs and pitched well into the eighth inning. Rivera closed the door again in the ninth for his 15th save. The bulk of the offense was provided in a three-run third, when Robinson Cano and Wells cleared the fences with back-to-back shots off of Ervin Santana.

Cano has been the Yankees most visible offensive weapon this season. He leads the team with a .311 batting average and .581 slugging percentage. He is pacing the team with ten home runs and 23 RBI. He hit a staggering .700 against the Indians earlier in the season with three home runs, three doubles, and seven runs batted in. In 20 plate appearances against Masterson in his career, he is batting .421.

Wells is batting .360 in his last seven days and has hit three home runs in that span with a team-high seven RBI. In 13 day games this season, he is batting .392 with four home runs.

Designated hitter Travis Hafner has chilled at the plate – he has just four hits in his first 27 at bats (.148) in May. In those nine games, he has struck out nine times and driven in just one run. He drove in four runs and homered in his first plate appearance at Progressive Field with the Yankees in the two teams’ prior meeting.

Cleveland sent a message to the American League Central by taking two of three games from the Tigers over the weekend in Detroit.

The Tigers overcame a quick first inning deficit with 15 hits, ten runs, and a victory over Corey Kluber and the Indians, 10-4, on Friday. Kluber (2-2) allowed eleven hits and gave up a career-high and Indians season-high eight earned runs on the night. Nick Swisher was 3-for-4 on the game and finished a home run short of the cycle.

The Indians added Justin Verlander’s name to the ever-growing list of former Cy Young pitchers conquered this season, as Cleveland defeated Detroit 7-6 on Saturday night. Verlander was gone after five innings after allowing four runs. He was unusually wild, walking five on the night. The Indians were aggressive on the field, highlighted by Jason Kipnis scoring from first base with two outs in the second with a head first dive into home plate. Ubaldo Jimenez (3-2) allowed only one run, a Jhonny Peralta home run, on three hits in six innings. He struck out eight for the second straight start and has won three straight decisions for the first time in his Indians career.

Mother’s Day provided some bonus baseball at Comerica Park, and in ten innings, the Indians were victorious over the Tigers, 4-3. The Tigers jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on a Brayan Pena two-run home run off of Zach McAllister. Kipnis knotted it up with a two-run double in the third, only to see the Tigers reclaim the lead 3-2 with a sacrifice fly in the fourth. With a runner on second and two outs in the ninth, Michael Brantley delivered a game-tying single off of Detroit closer Jose Valverde, earning him his first blown save of the year. Mark Reynolds delivered the go-ahead run in the tenth with a two-out pinch hit RBI single to left. Cody Allen earned his first save of his career to close the win.

Reynolds has seen the ball well in the sun – he is batting .412 in day games with five home runs and 17 RBI. He is tied for the AL lead in home runs (eleven) with Chris Davis of Baltimore and Edwin Encarnacion of Toronto. His 32 RBI on the year is good for fifth in the league.

Brantley is batting .400 in his last seven games.  He has five multi-hit games in the last week with a pair of RBI, helping to push his season batting average quietly over .300.

Swisher had hit in six straight games and nine out of ten before his 0-for-5 game on Sunday.

The bat of Carlos Santana has continued to cool off. His batting average has fallen 43 points in the last week, thanks to a 3-for-20 (.150) performance at the plate against Oakland and Detroit. He has, however, reached base in 14 of his last 15 games.

Indians relievers are 5-0 on the season with a 2.77 ERA, second-best in the AL behind Baltimore (2.64). The bats lead all of baseball in slugging percentage (.465) and on-base percentage plus slugging (.800).

In injury news, New York placed shortstop Eduardo Nunez on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 6th, with a sore left ribcage. Alberto Gonzalez, acquired earlier in the week from the Chicago Cubs, was selected by the club from their Triple-A affiliate. Mark Teixeira was transferred to the 60-day disabled list to make room on the 40-man roster for Gonzalez.

Since their last meeting with the Indians, catcher Francisco Cervelli (fractured right hand), infielder Kevin Youkilis (lumbar spine sprain), and pitchers Joba Chamberlain (right oblique strain) and Ivan Nova (right triceps inflammation) have joined Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, and Michael Pineda on the disabled list.

Just prior to the game, the Indians announced that third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall had been sent to Triple-A Columbus. Left-handed pitcher David Huff was added to the roster. The move gives Cleveland an extra pitcher on the roster with four games remaining in the next three days until their only remaining off day of the month on Thursday.

Indians closer Chris Perez is expected to be available for Monday’s doubleheader, despite experiencing stiffness in his right shoulder, unrelated to his Spring Training injury, in the top of the ninth in Sunday’s 4-3 win.

Reliever Vinnie Pestano, starter Brett Myers, and catcher Lou Marson remain on the 15-day disabled list.

The Yankees took each of the first two games against the Indians in their first meeting this season and have won three straight and seven of the last eight. New York has won 1,102 of 1,984 all-time meetings between the two organizations. Cleveland has not won a season series from New York since 2008 and, prior to that, 1992.

Both games will be broadcast on the YES Network and Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio. Radio broadcasts are available on both the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians radio networks.

After the doubleheader, the Yankees will head home for a six-game homestand. The Indians will fly to Philadelphia for a brief two-game series against the Phillies. The two teams will conclude their season series in early June at Yankee Stadium.

Photo: Duane Burleson/Getty Images

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