It may be time to start taking the Cleveland Indians seriously.
A day after extending their lead in the AL wild-card race, the Indians will send their best pitcher to the mound when they try for a three-game sweep of the fading Minnesota Twins.
The surprising Indians have not backed down in their quest for the wild card. Cleveland, which wasn’t expected to challenge for a playoff spot when the season began, has the best record in baseball since July 31, going 27-10.
“This team has continued to evolve,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “We’re playing with confidence, but you really can’t compare now to April. It just doesn’t go from A to Z like that. There’s a lot that’s gone into it.”
Cleveland has recovered from a 9-14 record on May 1 to win 81 games—one more than all of last season—with 20 to play.
The Indians built a 1 1/2 -game lead over the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics with Saturday’s 7-5 win over the Twins. Coco Crisp and Jhonny Peralta homered, and Scott Elarton allowed two runs and six hits over eight innings for Cleveland, which overcame deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to extend its winning streak to six.
Over the last 10 games, Cleveland starting pitchers are 6-1 with a 1.70 ERA. The odds are definitely with the Indians to continue that trend on Sunday because they will be sending staff ace Cliff Lee to the mound.
The 27-year-old left-hander is 6-0 with a 3.43 ERA during his 10-game unbeaten streak. His last time out, Lee set a career high with his 15th win, allowing four hits over eight shutout innings in a 6-1 victory over Detroit on Tuesday.
“Things went pretty good for me,” said Lee, who has not lost since getting beaten up by the Yankees on July 8. “They didn’t score and I can’t complain about that.
“I located my fastball. I didn’t have a good grip on it, but I was locating it well,” he added. “They started looking for the fastball and I started throwing changeups.”
Minnesota has lost four of five, falling 7 1/2 games back in the race for the wild card.
Justin Morneau hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning on Saturday to pull the Twins close.
“It’s another disappointing loss for us,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “The guys are battling. We’ve got to win games and we’re going to try as hard as we can. I expect this team to go out full bore and win. We’ll never stop trying to do that.”