The Cleveland Indians are trying to win their first AL Central title since 2001. To continue that push, they’ll need to get past the team that has claimed that crown in four of the last five seasons.
The Indians look to build their division lead when they open a crucial three-game home series with the Minnesota Twins on Monday night.
Cleveland (72-57) begins play with a 2 1/2-game lead over Detroit and is 5 1/2 games ahead of third-place Minnesota (67-63) in the Central.
Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez had two-out RBI singles in the 11th inning Sunday as the Indians rallied for a 5-3 victory over Kansas City. Grady Sizemore doubled in the ninth and Asdrubal Cabrera singled him home to force extra innings for Cleveland, which won for the fourth in five games and maintained its division advantage after Detroit and Minnesota also won.
“You find yourself peeking at the scoreboard yourself and I’m sure everyone else is,” said Indians closer Joe Borowski, who earned his career-high 37th save. “As long as you take care of your own business, everything will work out. It’s not like you’re going to win every game, but set your sights realistically.”
The Indians are 38-26 at Jacobs Field, but have dropped eight of their last 10 games there—a stretch that began with consecutive losses to Minnesota on July 28 and 29. Cleveland won the first six meetings between these teams this season, but has since dropped four of six.
The Twins, meanwhile, are going for a season-high sixth straight win and aren’t ready to concede the division yet.
“I’ve already heard rumors that they want to just go ahead and put the coffin doors shut on us,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’re going into town and trying to keep the coffin door open. That’s all we can do.”
Minnesota has outscored its opponents 39-14 and the pitching staff has recorded a 2.60 ERA during its run. The Twins also are coming off a four-game sweep of Baltimore, including an 11-3 victory on Sunday.
Jason Bartlett had two triples and two RBIs in the win, and was 9-for-18 in the series.
Bartlett will try to continue his hot hitting against Paul Byrd (12-5, 4.61 ERA). He’s won all three starts against Minnesota this season, including a four-hitter in a 4-0 victory on Aug. 6 for his fifth career shutout.
The right-hander is 9-3 with a 3.59 ERA in 15 career starts versus the Twins - his most wins against any opponent.
Byrd has won five of his last six decisions. In an 11-8 victory over Detroit on Wednesday, Byrd still got the decision despite allowing six runs and seven hits, including a season high-tying three homers, over 5 1-3 innings.
“I would have liked to have given up fewer runs, personally,” Byrd said. “But the season’s not about my ERA, it’s about us winning the division.”
Carlos Silva (10-12, 4.10), who will start this contest for Minnesota, opposed Byrd earlier this month and gave up two runs over seven innings while striking out six. The right-hander is 4-5 with a 4.90 ERA in 16 career games versus the Indians, including an 0-2 record with a 5.00 ERA in three starts this year.
But Silva has pitched well recently, going 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA over his last five starts with 20 strikeouts and just two walks. He held Seattle to two runs and eight hits over seven innings in an 8-4 victory on Wednesday, and needs one victory to match last season’s total .
Sizemore is batting .487 (19-for-39) with two homers, two triples and three doubles while Martinez is hitting .414 (12-for-29) with three homers and six doubles lifetime against Silva.
Twins catcher Joe Mauer, the reigning AL batting champion, is day-to-day with a strained left hamstring.
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