Playoff Preview?

No team has been as hot as the Cleveland Indians. They'll try to stay that way against one of only two teams with a better record, facing the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday in the opener of a four-game set matching up division leaders.

The Angels (82-57) have the second-best record in the majors behind Boston's 84-56 mark. The Indians (81-58) have the next-best record, but no team has been better over the last two weeks.

Cleveland has won 11 of 12 games since Aug. 25, including a three-game sweep in Minnesota earlier this week.

Oddsmakers from have made Los Angeles -155 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 8.5 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 66% of bets for this game have been placed on Los Angeles -155 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

"We've got a good vibe right now," third baseman Casey Blake said following Wednesday's 6-2 victory. "It just seems like we're playing pretty well in all areas of the game. And it's nice to have some good energy going on."

Blake had three hits Wednesday while Kenny Lofton and Victor Martinez each drove in two runs. Cleveland has scored at least five runs in 10 games during this 11-1 stretch while averaging nearly 11 hits per game.

Martinez and Travis Hafner have been two of Cleveland's hottest hitters with three homers and 13 RBIs apiece over the last 11 games.

The Indians have a comfortable lead over the second-place Detroit Tigers in the AL Central, but Thursday's starter, Paul Byrd (14-5, 4.19 ERA), said it's important the team doesn't get overconfident. Cleveland and Detroit play a three-game series at Jacobs Field from Sept. 17-19.

"Not until it's mathematically over," Byrd told the Indians' official Web site. "That's one thing I've learned in this game, is the minute you assume something before it happens, you're automatically surprised. Any time you assume anything in this game, you're done."

Byrd has won four straight starts, and is coming off his second four-hit shutout in less than four weeks. The right-hander threw 78 of his 110 pitches for strikes on Saturday in a 7-0 win over the Chicago White Sox. Byrd, who also blanked Minnesota on Aug. 6, loaded the bases in the ninth Saturday but retired the next two batters to end the game.

"He reached down deep in that last inning," manager Eric Wedge said. "That's what it was all about out there. I was happy to see him do that."

Byrd is 3-0 with a 3.89 ERA in six starts against the Angels, for whom he pitched during the 2005 season. He did not get a decision in his only outing against them this year, allowing two runs in seven innings of a 3-2 loss on May 9.

Angels star Vladimir Guerrero doubled twice off Byrd in that game and is 9-for-22 (.409) with two homers lifetime against him.

Kelvim Escobar (15-7, 2.99) gets the start for Los Angeles. Escobar had won four straight starts before losing to Texas on Saturday, when he lasted 2 2-3 innings - his shortest outing since May - and allowed five runs in a 7-6 defeat.

The right-hander had a 2.67 ERA over his previous four starts. He said the 99-degree temperature at game time affected his outing, in which he struck out six, but allowed 11 of the 18 batters he faced to reach base.

"It was pretty hot out there and it took me a while to get going," Escobar said. "I didn't have my best stuff today and I never got into my rhythm. I couldn't get my ball down in the strike zone. And when I got ahead, I couldn't finish them off."

A game-time temperature of around 70 might make things easier on Escobar, who has given up more than three earned runs only five times in 26 starts this season.

Escobar is 6-3 with a 3.31 ERA in nine starts and eight relief appearances against the Indians. He pitched a seven-hitter and struck out nine in an 8-0 win over Cleveland on May 10.

Travis Hafner had two of the Indians' seven hits and has gone 8-for-18 (.444) all-time versus Escobar.

Los Angeles has won seven of 10 overall, but failed to complete a three-game sweep of Oakland on Wednesday with a 6-2 loss.

Garret Anderson drove in a run for the 10th straight game, tying the franchise record held by Fred Lynn (1984) and Wally Joyner (1986). Anderson is hitting .457 (16-for-35) with six homers and 18 RBIs during that stretch.

Cleveland and Los Angeles have split six meetings this season.

by: Michael Cash - – Email Us

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