MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—By playing more relaxed, the Cleveland Indians are giving their AL Central opponents something to worry about.
Shoppach homered on the first pitch of the third from Minnesota starter Nick Blackburn(notes) (8-8). Valbuena followed two pitches later, and after Blackburn hit Andy Marte(notes) with a pitch, Sizemore connected for his 17th of the season.
“Guys are playing loose and having fun,” said Sizemore, who finished with a pair of hits, a walk, two RBIs and two runs scored. “We had kind of fallen back and now we’ve got nothing to lose. So now we can go out there and just relax and play, and sometimes you get your best baseball when you’re playing that way. We’ve got a chance to make some things happen here late and see where it goes.”
Minnesota’s dim playoff hopes faded further with another series loss to the Indians. After an 11-0 win in the opener, the Twins were outscored 14-7 the final two games. The results were reminiscent of a series two weeks ago in Cleveland when Minnesota opened with a 10-1 victory, then dropped the next two games while being outscored 10-2.
The Twins have lost five series in a row, the last four coming against AL Central opponents. Minnesota now trails Detroit by six games in the division and Texas by 10 1/2 in the wild-card race.
“I’m tired of this happening and I know the guys are tired of it,” Blackburn said. “Hopefully it gets better.”
Despite being a seller at the trade deadline, Cleveland is playing a big part in the AL Central standings.
The Indians have won four straight series against the top three teams in the division. They are 15-9 in their last 24 games.
“It’s always fun to be the spoiler,” Sizemore said. “We just want to finish strong. We’re not worried about anybody else right now. We want to keep doing what we’ve been doing these last two weeks, trying to win series and grow as a team.”
Laffey’s growth has been a big part of Cleveland’s resurgence.
The left-hander is 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA over his last five starts. He went 5 1-3 innings on Sunday, allowing three runs on five hits.
“To not give up that big hit, that’s a big thing, and definitely a positive step forward in the season and my career to know I can go out there in tough situations and bear down and get good hitters out,” Laffey said.
Blackburn is heading in the opposite direction.
Arguably the Twins’ most consistent starter earlier in the season, Blackburn has faded since the All-Star break. Since beating the Chicago White Sox on July 10, he is 0-4 with a 10.17 ERA in six starts.
Staked to a 3-0 advantage on Sunday, Blackburn failed to get out of the third inning.
The right-hander set down the first six batters he faced, but allowed three home runs and hit a batter in his first seven pitches of the third inning. He lasted just 2 1-3 innings, giving up six runs on six hits.
“It deflated us a bit,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We go out and score three and then give up six or seven. Same story. Our starters weren’t able to get us deep in the game.”
Blackburn had surrendered just 14 home runs this season, the sixth fewest in the AL with a minimum of 135 innings pitched.
NOTES: Twins 2B Alexi Casilla(notes) was out of the lineup after bruising his left foot during an at-bat on Saturday. Gardenhire said Casilla came in feeling better on Sunday. … Indians RF Trevor Crowe(notes) took batting practice before the game. But the switch-hitter, who has a strained right oblique muscle, only swung from the right side. Crowe did enter as a defensive replacement late. … Shoppach and Valbuena’s homers in the third were the seventh time this season that the Indians have hit home runs back-to-back. … After entering August with just three homers, Twins OF Delmon Young’s two-run homer in the second gave him three in his past six games.