Series Preview #49: Cleveland Indians (79-73) at Minnesota Twins (65-87)
Bob Toth | On 19, Sep 2014
Plenty of people have written off the Cleveland Indians this season, thanks in part to a horrific defensive effort, occasionally suspect pitching, and an absolutely anemic offense. Yet somehow, with ten games on the calendar to close out the season, they are lurking just outside of the playoff picture, waiting for a moment to strike. Their series in Minnesota this weekend with the Twins could keep the dream alive or eliminate all doubt.
Cleveland (79-73) stumbled out of the gate in a four-game series with the Houston Astros during the week. The Indians’ bats could not get going on Monday, supplying spot starter Zach McAllister (3-7) with just one run of support in a 3-1 loss. They recovered with four runs, two supplied by Yan Gomes, on Tuesday in an outstanding effort from the starting rotation in a 4-2 win. Carlos Carrasco’s two-hit, 12-strikeout complete game masterpiece was one for the record books on Wednesday, as the Indians blanked the Astros 2-0, powered by more runs from Gomes. Thursday’s game needed 13 innings, but the Indians avoided the split and won the series on a shallow sacrifice fly from Mike Aviles to score Jose Ramirez with the go-ahead run in a 2-1 win.
The Indians are five games in back of the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central. They are four games in back of the free-falling Oakland A’s for the second Wild Card spot and just four and a half games in back of the Wild Card leading Kansas City Royals, with whom the Indians still have four games to finish on the docket. The Royals and Tigers square off for three this weekend.
Minnesota (65-87) started their final homestand of the season against Detroit during the week and knocked off the Tigers twice in a three-game series. They lost the opener, 8-6, on Monday on a pair of runs in the top of the ninth from Detroit. After Glen Perkins blew the save in the top of the ninth on Tuesday, allowing a three-run home run to J.D. Martinez, the Twins scored two in the bottom of the inning to walk off winners, 4-3. Minnesota scored five runs off of David Price on Wednesday on the way to an 8-4 win to clinch the series.
The Twins will throw arguably the best pitcher on their staff in Phil Hughes (15-10, 3.56 ERA) in Friday’s 8:10 PM ET first pitch. He faced the Indians on August 21st and got the win, throwing seven innings of one-run ball while striking out eight. Trevor Bauer (5-8, 4.04) will pitch for the Tribe. He will look to end a winless drought dating back to August 24th. He has struggled on the road this season, posting a 1-5 record with a 4.91 ERA in eleven starts.
Trevor May (3-4, 7.71) and T.J. House (3-3, 3.42) will pair up in Saturday’s 7:10 PM ET first pitch. The Twins rookie right-hander has won three straight starts after losing four of his first five Major League decisions. He defeated the Indians on September 9th, when he allowed two runs on five hits in five innings. House has not been tagged with a loss since August 7th against Cincinnati. He won his last start, also against Minnesota, with seven innings of scoreless, four-hit ball with eight Ks.
The Twins had yet to announced a starter for the series finale on Sunday at the time of this preview. Candidates include Tom Milone, Logan Darnell, and Anthony Swarzak. The Indians will send Corey Kluber (16-9, 2.54) to the rubber in his second-to-last start of the year. After losing three straight games, Kluber has now won three straight decisions and is coming off a 14-strikeout performance in seven innings in his last victory. He is 3-1 in September with a 2.54 ERA. Game time is scheduled for 2:10 PM ET.
Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio and Fox Sports North will broadcast all three games this weekend. The radio affiliates of the Cleveland Indians Radio Network, the Minnesota Twins Radio Network, and the Treasure Island Baseball Network will all provide alternatives to television.
Including their time as the Washington Senators, the Twins have been the Indians third-most frequently played team in club history. Cleveland has been on the winning side at a substantial advantage, posting a 1,108-968 record all-time. The Twins hold the edge as the home team, posting a 538-497 record.
The Indians and Twins have split six games at Target Field this season. Minnesota took two of three there after the All-Star break. The Indians won two of three in their second series of the season in August in Minneapolis, in addition to taking two of three the last time the clubs met in Cleveland earlier this month.
Cleveland leads the season series, nine games to seven.
The Twins are without Mike Pelfrey for the remainder of the season after June 2014 right elbow surgery.
Several players are banged up for Minnesota, including closer Perkins. He was scheduled to undergo an MRI on his sore left arm on Thursday. Starter Milone could return for Sunday’s start, but he has been battling neck inflammation.
Michael Brantley extended his hitting streak to nine games. The hitting machine is batting .395 in his last ten games and .406 in the month of September. In 18 games this month, his lone hitless game came on September 9th against Minnesota.
Carlos Santana has very quietly hit safely in six straight games. He has driven in five runs in that stretch, including the tying run in Thursday’s win. He is hitting .297 in his last ten games with two home runs and nine RBI. He has a .348 batting average this season at Target Field. He leads the Indians with 27 home runs and 105 walks this season and is second with 82 RBI.
Gomes has hit .429 this season in five games at Target Field. He has a double and a homer with three runs batted in there this year. For the season, he has hit .326 against Twins pitching with five home runs and 14 RBI, both of which lead Cleveland against Minnesota this year. He has more than twice as many home runs and runs batted in against the Twins than any other opponent this season.
Arcia has salivated at the sight of Indians pitching this season. He has hit .387 in nine games against Cleveland with three home runs and seven RBI.
Danny Santana has hit .368 in 12 games against the Tribe with five doubles and a triple. He is on a hot streak at the plate for the club, with a four-game multi-hit hitting streak. He has nine hits in his last 18 at bats (.500) and is hitting .394 over his last ten games.
All-Star catcher Kurt Suzuki has hit just .179 against Cleveland this season. He is hitting .324 over his last ten games and is batting .292 on the season with three home runs and 58 RBI.
Former Twins outfielder Matt Lawton spent three seasons of his prime in an Indians uniform.
The left-handed hitter with sneaky pop spent 12 years in the Majors, including his first seven with the Twins. He made the All-Star team in 2000 with Minnesota and hit .305 that season, his best single-season mark of his career.
He was swapped to the New York Mets in 2001 for reliever Rick Reed and spent just a half season in Shea before being dealt to Cleveland in an eight-player trade revolving around him, Roberto Alomar, and several prospects.
Lawton filled a hole in the outfield for the Indians, but he was never able to replace the numbers of Alomar in the lineup, a fact made much worse by the failure of Alex Escobar, Jerrod Riggan, Earl Snyder, and Billy Traber to develop into consistent and regular Major Leaguers. He played his best season in Cleveland in 2004, when he was named to the All-Star team for the second and final time and hit .277 with 20 home runs while driving in 70. He hit 50 home runs while batting .257 over his brief Indians career.
After the season, he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates straight up for reliever Arthur Rhodes. He would spend 2005 with the Pirates, the Chicago Cubs, and the New York Yankees. He began 2006 with the Seattle Mariners but was cut loose at the end of May to end his MLB career.
The Indians, finished on the road for the regular season, will return to Progressive Field. They will host Kansas City for three games and the completion of the suspended game before a needed day off Thursday. The Tampa Bay Rays will come to town over the weekend to end the season. The Twins will host the Arizona Diamondbacks for three straight before heading to Motown to wrap up their season with four games at Comerica Park with the Tigers.
Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images