Series Preview #53: Cleveland Indians (88-70) at Minnesota Twins (66-92)

With the 53rd and final series preview of the 2013 regular season, the Cleveland Indians have a magic number of four to clinch an American League Wild Card spot with four games remaining.

The Indians (88-70) swept their entire homestand, winning the games that they must win to stay in playoff contention. With two more wins against Chicago, they improved to 17-2 on the season against the White Sox, including 14 straight wins. The win total for the season equaled the most wins by a team against any one opponent in the division era.

The Twins (66-92) will be the last obstacle standing in the way of Cleveland’s postseason chances. Luckily for the Indians, they catch the Twins at a particularly rough patch in an overall disappointing season. In the last 15 games, the Twins are 3-12. They have struggled to score runs (2.6 per game in that stretch) and have not limited the opposition from crossing the plate (team ERA of 6.60).

The scheduled starters for the next four games could change, pending the outcome of games involving either the Tampa Bay Rays, who the Indians effectively trail by two games due to tie breakers for the top AL Wild Card spot, and the Texas Rangers, who trail the Indians by one full game.

Andrew Albers (2-4, 3.98 ERA) stymied the Indians in his second Major League start back in August, when he threw a two-hit complete game. Ron Gardenhire will hope his young lefty can do the same in Thursday’s 8:10 PM ET start from Target Field and rebound from his 0-4 record in all starts since. Zach McAllister (9-9, 3.88) will make his third start of the season against Minnesota. He looks to win three consecutive starts for the second time in as many months.

Pedro Hernandez (3-2, 6.05) will make the 8:10 PM ET first pitch in Friday night’s ball game. The lefty is 1-0 in two starts against the Indians and has allowed seven earned runs and ten walks in ten and one-third innings. Corey Kluber (10-5, 3.61) will counter. He is 3-0 with a 4.05 ERA in four September starts.

Cole De Vries (0-1, 11.70) and Scott Kazmir (9-9, 4.14) will be the starting pitchers in Saturday’s altered 1:05 PM ET start. De Vries will make his fourth appearance and second start since rejoining the Twins this month. Kazmir has struck out 32 batters in four September starts and has earned a 2-2 record. He has hit double-digit K figures twice in the month, and in both of those games, did not allow an earned run. The game will be aired on Fox nationally.

Scott Diamond (6-12, 5.54) will start the regular season finale for the Twins at 2:10 PM ET on Sunday. He allowed five earned runs on seven hits, but could not finish the fifth in a loss to Cleveland in July. Ubaldo Jimenez (12-9, 3.38) is the scheduled starter for the ball game for Cleveland. He earned a no-decision on Tuesday, giving him a 5-5 record with a 1.86 ERA since the All-Star break.

Games on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday will air on Fox Sports North and Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio. Radio broadcasts can be heard on the Minnesota Twins Radio Network and the Cleveland Indians Radio Network.

The Indians pushed their winning streak to six straight with another sweep of the White Sox during the week.

After a near heartbreaking loss after a pair of solo ninth inning home runs, Jason Giambi sent the Indians home a winner with his clutch two-out, pinch-hit, two-run walkoff homer, giving Cleveland a 5-4 win over Chicago on Tuesday. Jimenez lasted six and one-third innings and struck out seven batters, dropping his September ERA to 1.04. Michael Brantley put the Indians on the board with an RBI-single in the second and added a solo home run to tie the game in the seventh. Jason Kipnis delivered a go-ahead single shortly after the blast by Dr. Smooth, but Chris Perez allowed two solo home runs in the ninth to blow the save and nearly the game, if not for the heroics of Giambi.

Danny Salazar wrapped up his final start in his debut season with eight strikeouts over five and one-third innings as the Indians completed their perfect homestand with a 7-2 victory on Wednesday night. Salazar (2-3) earned his first win since his Major League debut, allowing six hits and two earned runs on the night. Nick Swisher’s two-run home run in the fifth opened up the game. Brantley had three more hits and drove in a run in the second inning. Justin Masterson pitched a scoreless ninth in relief.

Brantley, who has been using the bat of teammate Carlos Santana, is in the midst of a nine-game hitting streak. He is batting .486 with a pair of home runs and eight runs driven in during that span. For the month, he is hitting .379.

Asdrubal Cabrera is batting .381 in the last week. Seven of his eight hits have been singles and he has drawn three more walks, giving him a .458 on-base percentage during that stretch. He is second on the team in home runs in the month with five and leads the team with his 16 RBI.

Kipnis has five hits in his last eleven at bats during his modest three-game hitting streak.

McAllister has allowed three earned runs in 13 1/3 innings in his last two starts (both wins) against the Twins. Minnesota batters have hit just .170 in those games.

The Indians outscored visiting teams 29-11 during their current six-game winning streak.

The Twins fell twice in three games against the Detroit Tigers earlier in the week.

A one-out walkoff single by Josmil Pinto in the bottom of the eleventh gave the Twins a 4-3 win on Monday night. Mike Pelfrey started for Minnesota and allowed one run in six innings. Justin Verlander kept the Twins off of the board for six shutout innings, striking out 12. Trailing 3-0 in the bottom of the eighth, the Twins got a pair of RBI-doubles to cut into the lead and tied it with a Brian Dozier home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth off of reliever Joaquin Benoit.

The Tigers rode a four-run fourth inning and Doug Fister won his 14th game of the year as Detroit defeated Minnesota 4-2 on Tuesday. All four Tigers’ runs scored via long ball (Victor Martinez and Omar Infante solo shots, Austin Jackson two-run homer). Chris Parmelee drove in the first run of the game with a single in the second. Ryan Doumit homered in the seventh. Diamond allowed all four runs in six and one-third innings.

The MLB’s winningest pitcher this season needed just one run of support as Max Scherzer outdueled Kevin Correia in a 1-0 victory on Wednesday. Scherzer won his 21st game of the season with seven scoreless innings of two hit ball. He struck out ten but walked a season-high six. Torii Hunter drove in the lone run of the game on an RBI-single in the first inning.

Josh Willingham is 6-for-10 in his career against McAllister with three home runs and six runs batted in. Dozier, Pedro Florimon, and Trevor Plouffe are all 1-for-7 against him each, and Chris Herrmann is 0-for-8. Dozier’s one hit was a home run.

Plouffe is seventh in the American League in September with 28 hits.

Minnesota has struck out more times than any other Major League team since the All-Star break.

Their starting pitchers have combined for an AL-worst 5.20 ERA with a 1.54 WHIP on the season. Their bullpen has accounted for a much more respectable 3.46 ERA with a 1.21 WHIP.

Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer

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