The last two years, the AL Central winner was decided in Game 163, but the Minnesota Twins can end the suspense much earlier this season.
With some help, the Twins can clinch their second straight division title Tuesday night when they continue a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians.
Minnesota (90-60) learned a sore left knee could sideline Joe Mauer(notes) for a few days, but with the AL Central crown nearly in hand, it didn’t appear to matter as the Twins beat Cleveland (62-88) 9-3 on Monday, their 18th win in 23 games.
Michael Cuddyer(notes) and Danny Valencia(notes) homered for Minnesota, which saw its magic number to clinch the Central lowered to two after Chicago lost in Oakland later Monday. With a win and a White Sox loss Tuesday, the Twins can become the first team in the majors to clinch a postseason berth.
That’s a much easier position than Minnesota was in the previous two years. The Twins lost a one-game playoff to Chicago to decide the division in 2008, then had to beat Detroit in the same situation to win the Central last year.
While the Twins said they aren’t too concerned about Mauer, who is expected to get an MRI on Tuesday and is day to day, it helps to have other hot hitters. Valencia has especially come up big down the stretch, hitting three home runs in his last four games and batting .391 since Aug. 31.
“You’re seeing a guy develop right in front of your eyes, and he’s doing it during a pennant race,” manager Ron Gardenhire said of his rookie third baseman, who turned 26 on Sunday.
Baker has been sidelined with elbow tendinitis since he lasted two innings against Detroit in his last start, giving up two runs and three hits. He did not get a decision as the game went to extra innings.
Baker has won five consecutive decisions overall but has lost both of his starts against Cleveland this year, allowing 11 runs in 10 1-3 innings.
Carmona is 1-2 in his last four starts, but has a 1.76 ERA over that stretch. He gave up two runs and four hits in seven innings of a 3-2, 11-inning win over Los Angeles on Thursday.
“Fausto continues to be terrific,” manager Manny Acta said. “He had heavy life on his sinker.”
After giving up 11 runs in his first two games against Minnesota this season, Carmona limited the Twins to three hits and struck out seven in a 2-0 win Sept. 10, his fourth complete game of 2010.
He certainly won’t be happy to see Kubel back in the lineup. The Minnesota right fielder is 13 for 34 with three home runs off Carmona.
The Twins are seeking their fourth straight victory over the Indians.