Twins, Indians battle for top of AL Central

After leading the American League Central for 104 consecutive days, the Minnesota Twins have some company in the top spot heading into their Saturday night game against the Cleveland Indians in Minneapolis.

Cleveland, which trailed the Twins by 11 1/2 games on June 2, moved into a tie for first place with Minnesota thanks to a 6-2 victory over the Twins on Friday night.

The Indians have won four in a row while the Twins have lost four in a row.

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Both teams will take 70-46 records into the third game of the four-game series. Minnesota right-hander Jake Odorizzi (12-5, 3.61 ERA) will try to put an end to a season-high, four-game losing streak as he opposes right-hander Adam Plutko (4-2, 4.55).

Odorizzi is 2-4 with a 4.89 ERA in 11 career starts against the Indians but won his last start against them on July 13 in Cleveland, allowing one earned run on three hits and two walks over 5 1/3 innings in a 6-2 victory.

He also had a no-decision against the Indians in the second game of the season at Target Field on March 30 despite allowing just one hit -- a Jose Ramirez homer -- and one run while striking out 11 in six innings during a 2-1 Minnesota loss.

Plutko, who is 0-0 with a 3.68 ERA two career games and one start against Minnesota, will be making his Target Field debut. He'll look to continue the Indians' strong starting pitching in the series.

Mike Clevinger gave up three hits and two runs over seven innings in a 7-5 win on Thursday, and Shane Bieber yielded two runs on seven hits while striking out 11 in seven innings on Friday, both emerging with a win.

Although you have to go back to April 26 for the last time the Twins shared first place in the AL Central, Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said he expects his team to bounce back.

"I have no doubt that we're going to play better," Baldelli said. "We're going to turn this little spurt around. Our pitchers are going to throw the ball better, and we're going to be fine."

Cleveland is 41-16 since June 2 while Minnesota is 30-28. The teams meet eight more times, with five of those contests in Minneapolis, and the Twins have ace Jose Berrios (10-6, 3.24 ERA) lined up to pitch Sunday's finale.

"I think they have been playing extremely well," Twins first baseman C.J. Cron told "We haven't been playing up to our standard, that's for sure. We just need to get back to the basics. We need to start hitting the ball hard. We need to start throwing the ball better. That's everybody in here."

Cleveland manager Terry Francona was asked after the Friday night victory how it felt to be back in a tie for first place.

"I'd rather be there than last, but it's also August 9th," Francona said. "We've got a lot of baseball (left), but I'd rather be there than 11 back."

Bieber, however, didn't hide his excitement about being back tied for the top spot.

"It's awesome, man," Bieber said. "We're having a blast. Tonight was awesome. We were all super excited coming into the series, and I think you've seen that the first two games. It's just an incredible group to do this -- (coming) from (11 1/2) back, whatever we were -- and now we're back tied at the top is a huge deal for us. It's a lot of fun to be part of right now."

--Field Level Media

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