Though the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays have been competitive, they both know their play must improve in order to remain postseason contenders.
That begins Friday night when the Indians look to continue their recent road success against the Blue Jays.
Cleveland (44-41), which spent a good portion of the first half leading the AL Central, is three games behind first-place Chicago in the division and one out of the second wild card spot.
“I’m satisfied where we stand, but we must play better in the second half,” general manager Chris Antonetti said.
Last July 15, the Indians led the Central by one game but finished 31-40. The team believes the experience of falling short might actually help in 2012.
“We know what that feeling is like,” scheduled starter Justin Masterson (5-8, 4.40 ERA) said. “We don’t have to be in first place now. We have to be in first place at the end.”
All-Stars Asdrubal Cabrera and Chris Perez are two reasons the Indians have remained competitive, but both hope to fare better coming out of the break than they did heading into it.
Perez’s run of 24 straight converted save chances ended Sunday when he allowed three runs in the ninth inning of a 7-6 loss to Tampa Bay.
Cabrera is tied for the team lead with 11 home runs and has 42 RBIs but is 4 for 27 in his last seven games. Though he went 3 for 15 with a homer while Cleveland lost two of three at home to Toronto to open the season, Cabrera is a lifetime .328 hitter at Rogers Centre.
Masterson, 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in three starts against the Blue Jays, allowed a solo homer to All-Star Jose Bautista and one other hit while striking out 10 over eight innings of a 7-4, 16-inning season-opening loss to Toronto on April 5.
The right-hander hopes to bounce back after he gave up eight runs and walked four in 4 1-3 innings of a 10-3 loss to the Rays last Friday.
Cleveland, which snapped a five-game home skid to the Blue Jays (43-43) with a 4-3 win April 8, has won four of five at Toronto.
Despite injuries to three starting pitchers, the Blue Jays managed to play .500 baseball but are tied for last in the AL East, 9 1/2 games behind New York.
Edwin Encarnacion hit his 23rd home run to help Toronto snap a three-game skid with an 11-9 win at Chicago on Sunday. Encarnacion, who signed a new three-year contract this week, is tied for fourth in the AL in home runs, is fifth in slugging (.565) and seventh in RBIs (58).
“We’ve really seen him grow as a player,” said general manager Alex Anthopoulos about the versatile eighth-year veteran.
He’s hit .387 (12 for 31) in his last seven games versus Cleveland.
Tied for the major league lead with 27 homers, Bautista is batting .373 with five home runs and 12 RBIs in his last 11 against the Indians.
Scheduled starter Ricky Romero (8-4, 5.22) is 0-3 with a 10.80 ERA while losing three straight starts but yielded two runs in six innings of a 2-0 loss at Chicago on Saturday.
“I’m as disappointed as anyone in my first half,” the left-hander said. “You learn from moments like this. I know 100 percent in my mind that it’s gonna make me better.”
Romero, 2-1 with a 5.79 ERA in four starts against the Indians, allowed four runs in five innings of the season-opening loss at Cleveland.