Twins Flex Muscles, Sweep Series with Tribe; Twins 7, Indians 5

The “Bomba Squad” was back at it again at Target Field on Sunday as the Minnesota bats drove three out of the park against starter Triston McKenzie to overcome an early three-run deficit and tacked on a fourth blast for good measure as the Twins swept the Cleveland Indians with a 7-5 final.

The Indians pitching staff has been so good for much of the season, but this weekend served as a sufficient reminder that the team was going to need some offense to make any real noise come playoff time. The bats woke up slowly on Saturday and had ample opportunity on Sunday to try to support the pitching staff, but a home run barrage from the Twins lineup for the third straight day proved to be too much for the Tribe offense to contend with as the team’s tailspin continued with a sixth straight defeat.

Cleveland scored three runs in the first three innings to take an unusual early lead. Minnesota starter Michael Pineda gave up a leadoff single to center to Francisco Lindor. He moved up 90 feet on a bunt single by Cesar Hernandez. Jose Ramirez struck out on three pitches for the first out, but Carlos Santana’s big day at the plate began with an RBI-single to left. Lindor scored and both base runners moved into scoring position on a throwing error in left by Eddie Rosario. With a chance to do some big damage early, the Tribe bats floundered as both Franmil Reyes (four straight sliders) and Tyler Naquin (four straight heaters) struck out over the next eight pitches to leave two in scoring position.

McKenzie retired the side in order in the first. After Pineda struck out two more in a scoreless second and McKenzie matched that with his second and third strikeouts of the day in the bottom of the second, the Indians lineup got back to work with the top of the order at the bat. Lindor attacked quickly, slapping the inning’s first pitch into left field for his second hit. Hernandez singled to right with his second base hit of the game. Déjà vu continued as Ramirez was cut down on strikes for the first out before Santana made it a 2-0 game with a single to right, scoring Lindor for the second time on the day. Unlike the first threat, the Indians added more as Reyes lofted a sacrifice fly to right to give the Indians a rare 3-0 lead. Naquin stranded Santana at first with a grounder to short.

Cruz – Jeffrey Becker – USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota capitalized on a wild start to the bottom of the third by McKenzie. The young Tribe hurler walked LaMonte Wade Jr. on five pitches. McKenzie fell behind 2-0 to Marwin Gonzalez before the veteran utility man took him deep to right. His second homer in as many days cut the score to 3-2. McKenzie got the next three in order.

The Indians wasted a two-out opposite field single in the fourth before the Twins tied it up. McKenzie struck out Jorge Polanco swinging to start the frame, but his first pitch to Nelson Cruz was parked into the bullpen in left-center to tie the game at three.

Cleveland threatened again in the fifth, but the team’s woes in the clutch continued. Ramirez got into the hit column with a solid double to right with one out. Santana struck out swinging for the second out before Pineda walked Reyes to put two on. Manager Rocco Baldelli went to his bullpen for a left-on-left matchup between reliever Caleb Thielbar and Naquin, and the southpaw won it firing three straight upper-80s fastballs past the Tribe right fielder to leave a pair.

The Twins knocked out McKenzie in the bottom of the fifth. McKenzie plunked Wade Jr. on an 0-2 breaking ball. Gonzalez struck out looking for the first out, but Ryan Jeffers broke the tie with a big fly to left-center. His third of the year put Minnesota on top for the first time, 5-3. Cal Quantrill entered in relief for interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr., but after retiring Max Kepler on a fly to center, Josh Donaldson played rainmaker with a clout over the center field wall. His fourth of the year and the fourth homer of the game for the Twins extended their new lead to 6-3.

The Indians responded with a run in the sixth, but missed out again on more. Thielbar walked Josh Naylor and Sandy Leon to start the inning. Oscar Mercado just missed a base hit, as a good play at short by Polanco retired Leon on a force at second for the first out. Baldelli went back to his bullpen for the hard-throwing right-hander Trevor May, whose first pitch was sent to left-center for a sacrifice fly by Lindor to make it a 6-4 game. Mercado swiped second, but Hernandez could not get him home as he popped to short.

Quantrill got into a mess to start the home half of the sixth. Cruz singled to right-center and Rosario reached on an infield single. Miguel Sano struck out swinging with Quantrill’s final pitch, with James Karinchak entering in relief of him. He walked Wade Jr. to load the bases before Gonzalez pushed one home on a sacrifice fly to right. A wild pitch by Karinchak moved both runners up 90 feet before Jeffers drew a five-pitch walk, but the “Wild Thing” got Kepler to foul out to third to leave the bases full of Twins.

Ramirez reached to open the seventh against May with a single, but he was promptly and painfully picked off of first as the life got sucked out of the lineup. After getting Santana, May left hurt, but Cody Stashak struck out Reyes to close the frame. Phil Maton worked a scoreless inning after the stretch, giving up a one-out single to Polanco before striking out Cruz and getting Rosario to ground to short.

The Indians got to Stashak in the eighth but once again failed to capitalize on opportunities with runners in scoring position. Naquin opened the inning with a double deep to right-center. Naylor lined out center before Leon came through with a single to right, driving in Naquin to make it 7-5. Delino DeShields took over for Leon on the base paths and stole second, but pinch-hitter Mike Freeman struck out swinging and Lindor flied out to center to leave a big run standing at second.

Brad Hand, getting in some work on a bad weekend for the Tribe, used 12 pitches to retire the Twins in the bottom of the eighth.

Down to their final three outs, the Indians again had an opportunity to do damage and had that chance against the mouthy nuisance Sergio Romo, on for the save with closer Taylor Rogers unavailable after pitching the last two nights. Hernandez opened things with a single. Ramirez popped out to second, but Santana recorded his third base hit with a single to right to put the tying runs on base. The slumping Reyes struck out looking on a fastball after three straight sliders for the second out and the next pitch to Naquin was sent on the fly to center for the final out.

Santana – AP Photo/Craig Lassig

The Indians (26-21) have now lost six straight contests in an ill-timed slump on all sides of the ball. The Twins (30-18) took the season series from the Indians, seven games to three, using a 6-1 mark in Minnesota to do the bulk of the damage. They remained a game off of the pace in the American League Central, one game in back of the victorious Chicago White Sox, which won for the fourth straight time in sweeping the Detroit Tigers on Sunday afternoon.

Two stories dominated the weekend trip to Minneapolis for the Tribe. An inconsistent offensive showing limited the lineup from providing proper support for the pitching staff. The arms were tagged for eleven home runs in the three-game series, with two on Friday, five on Saturday night, and four more on Sunday.

McKenzie allowed just three hits in his fifth start of the season, but each one hurt. Twice, those hits were proceeded by mistakes, as his lone walk and a hit batter each were able to trot in on two of the three home runs that he allowed on the afternoon. He was charged with five runs on three hits in four and one-third innings of work, walking one, hitting one, and striking out seven in a day of mixed results after starting his outing with six straight retired.

“Triston was kind of similar to Plesac yesterday in a manner of execution,” said Alomar Jr. “He was falling behind in the count. Couple of times with runners on, he was too quick to the plate.”

Pineda finished two pitches short of 100 on the day but lasted just four and two-thirds. He gave up eight hits and a walk, but limited the Indians to just three runs despite the numerous base runners. He struck out eight in his no-decision. Thielbar got the win, his second, in relief.

The top four hitters in the lineup combined for a 10-for-19 day at the plate with three RBI and three runs scored. Santana had three hits and two RBI for the Tribe to pace the offense. Lindor had two hits early and scored twice. Hernandez had three singles and scored a run. Ramirez had a single and a double, but struck out twice.

Reyes had a rough day, striking out three times around a walk and a sacrifice fly. The four through nine hitters were 3-for-18 with eight strikeouts and three walks. The team as a whole went 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position while stranding ten.

The Twins’ first hit of the game that was not a long ball did not come until Cruz’s leadoff single in the sixth off of Quantrill. He had two of the Twins’ seven hits on the day, including his MLB-lead tying 16th homer of the year. Seven of the eight Twins runs scored came via home run; the team had just two at bats with runners in scoring position.

The Indians will take a very needed day off on Monday before resuming their three-city road trip in Chicago with a pair of tough matchups against the Cubs. Yu Darvish and Jon Lester are the scheduled starters for Chicago in those games, while the Indians will call on Carlos Carrasco and Aaron Civale in the back-to-back 8:15 PM ET first pitches.

Photo: AP Photo/Craig Lassig

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