Indians and Pirates square off in rubber match
The Cleveland Indians' outstanding stretch of starting pitching is still going, but their winning streak isn't thanks to a fantastic performance from perhaps the Pittsburgh Pirates' worst starter.
Now they'll take their swings against one of baseball's best.
The majors' first 11-game winner tries again to make it a career-high 12 on Sunday against the Indians, who hope Danny Salazar can match Gerrit Cole and send Cleveland home from its 10-game trip with a sixth victory.
The last six Indians starters have all pitched into the seventh inning - four completed eight - and have combined to post a 1.74 ERA. Cody Anderson gave Cleveland (38-42) an excellent chance at a sixth straight victory Saturday in his eight innings, but Neil Walker's RBI single in the sixth was all Pittsburgh (46-34) needed in its 1-0 win.
"Their guy did a good job of pounding the strike zone today and we weren't able to take advantage that much," said Walker, who's 16 for 34 during an eight-game hitting streak. "Fortunately one run was enough."
Walker's RBI held up behind a career-best start from Jeff Locke, who held the Indians to two hits over eight innings to drop his ERA from a rotation-worst 4.55 to 4.15. Pirates starters have a 1.82 ERA over the last six games and a 3.08 ERA on the season, third best in baseball.
"I'm very proud of the effort and execution (of the starting staff)," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It has been very, very good. These guys have all taken it personally upon themselves to own the game they get."
Cole (11-3, 2.20 ERA) has the NL's fourth-best ERA, but he's second in his own rotation behind A.J. Burnett's 2.05.
Matching Locke's eight scoreless innings Sunday would drop his ERA under Burnett's - and perhaps allow him to surpass his 2014 win total - but Cole has labored somewhat in his last two outings. After allowing a season-high five runs in 4 2-3 innings of a 5-2 loss June 24 against Cincinnati, the right-hander gave up a season-high nine hits and two runs in 6 2-3 of Tuesday's 5-4 win at Detroit.
The Pirates have won seven straight Cole starts against the AL dating to September 2013 as he's posted a 2.82 ERA. They've also won five of his six starts during the day in 2015 behind a 1.66 ERA.
Salazar (7-3, 3.80) is 3-0 with a 2.49 ERA and .193 opponents' batting average in matinÃ©es, but he was excellent Tuesday night. The right-hander held Tampa Bay to two hits and two runs - one earned - over seven innings.
Using his fastball almost exclusively, Salazar retired the first 15 batters he faced - and drew some high praise from the Rays.
"That guy Salazar, his stuff is as good as anybody in baseball," manager Kevin Cash said. "He throws 97 miles an hour, looks like it's coming in just effortlessly."
Neither Cole nor Salazar has faced their Sunday opponent previously, and they'll both face some struggling hitters.
Cleveland's Michael Brantley is 0 for 7 in this series and 3 for 20 in his last five games. Carlos Santana is 4 for 30 on the Indians' seven-game trip and Brandon Moss is 4 for 29 since last Sunday - though half of those hits left the park.
The Pirates have nine hits in this series after piling up 48 in a 3-game sweep at Detroit. Pedro Alvarez, Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte are a combined 0 for 20 against Indians pitching the past two days.