Appearing poised to get back into the AL Central race, the Cleveland Indians will look to keep rolling Tuesday when they open a two-game series with the Minnesota Twins, who are struggling to keep up in the division.
The Indians defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 in 10 innings Sunday for their fifth win in six games. Grady Sizemore singled home the winning run with two outs in the 10th for Cleveland (22-22), which lost six in a row prior to its 5-1 stretch.
The Indians, who finished 93-69 last year and narrowly missed out on a playoff spot, still trail upstart Detroit and defending world champion Chicago in the Central, but are showing some signs of reverting to last season’s form.
“The guys kept playing,” manager Eric Wedge said after Sunday’s victory. “We kept going and had a couple of big hits and the pitching kept us in it.”
Cleveland, though, has put together its hot streak against Kansas City and Pittsburgh—two of baseball’s worst teams. Tuesday’s contest should provide a good test of how well the Indians are playing when they face Twins ace Johan Santana (4-4, 3.23 ERA), who has a 2.25 ERA over his last six starts and has pitched at least seven innings in each of those games.
Santana allowed only two runs and four hits in eight innings Wednesday, but had a four-start winning streak snapped with a 2-0 loss to the Tigers.
The left-hander is 5-2 with a 3.23 ERA in 20 games, including 10 starts, against Cleveland. Santana faced the Indians on April 9 in his second start of the season and suffered a 3-2 defeat after giving up three runs in 5 1-3 innings. That loss capped a three-game sweep by the Indians at Jacobs Field in the clubs’ first meeting of the year.
Cleveland will send Cliff Lee (3-4, 4.25 ERA) to the mound Tuesday. The left-hander has pitched poorly in his last four games after a strong start to the season, posting a 5.84 ERA over that span and allowing at least 10 hits twice. Lee managed to end a three-game losing streak Thursday, throwing six innings and giving up four earned runs in a 6-5 win over the Royals.
Lee is 4-2 with a 4.08 ERA in eight starts against the Twins. He faced Minnesota twice last year, going 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA.
The Twins (19-25) should be happy to face a struggling pitcher as they continue to try to build momentum. Minnesota followed up a five-game losing streak with consecutive victories over Milwaukee, but dropped the series finale 5-3 on Sunday at Miller Park.
The Twins blew a 3-1 lead by giving up four runs in the seventh inning. All of those runs were charged to reliever Jesse Crain, who hadn’t allowed a run in six appearances. The rough inning left the right-hander’s ERA at 7.52.
“Our bullpen has been quite reliable for us, but Jesse couldn’t make a pitch when he needed to and they jumped on us,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Gardenhire’s team is fourth in the Central, ahead of only Kansas City, which has baseball’s worst record at 10-31. Like the Indians, the Twins looked to be on the verge of putting a poor start behind them with a 6-1 stretch from May 6-13, but followed it up with the five straight losses.
Catcher Joe Mauer continued his hot hitting for the Twins on Sunday, going 2-for-5 with an RBI, and is 9-for-15 (.600) in his last three games to push his average to .338.
Indians catcher Victor Martinez, hitting .306 this season, is 7-for-19 (.368) with two home runs and two doubles in his career against Santana. Cleveland right fielder Casey Blake is batting .321 (9-for-28) with a homer and three doubles against him.