After trailing the Minnesota Twins by as many as 11 1/2 games on June 3, the three-time defending American League Central-champion Cleveland Indians open a four-game series in Minneapolis on Thursday night just two games out of first place.
The Indians, who have gone 39-16 in their last 55 games and come in off a doubleheader sweep of the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, will start right-hander Mike Clevinger (6-2, 3.07 ERA). Minnesota -- which has dropped two in a row, including an 11-7 loss to National League East-leading Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon -- will counter with right-hander Kyle Gibson (11-4, 4.02).
"I wish we were up," Cleveland manager Terry Francona replied when asked if he was pleased with his team's position heading into the weekend showdown. "I think we've done a good job controlling what we can control. That's kind of the best way to go about it. ... It'll be a fun series to play."
Minnesota holds a 5-4 edge over the Indians in the nine games played so far. The teams still play 10 more times before the end of the regular season, with seven of those contests at Target Field.
"They're really good," Francona said of the Twins. "We know that. But they're right in front of us. It'll be a good challenge." Despite losing 9 1/2 games of their lead in just over two months, the Twins enter the series a confident bunch.
"I don't think there's any need to panic," Gibson, who is 3-9 with a 5.34 ERA in 19 career starts against Cleveland, told twincities.com. "I think if you asked anybody Aug. 1, especially Twins fans, if they're (two) games up in the division, I think everybody is ecstatic."
"We're pretty confident with where we're at," Gibson added. "We understand that if we go and play our type of game, we play well, then the pressure is really not going to be on us at the end of the day."
"It's exciting," closer Taylor Rogers told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "It's all that you can ask for, play meaningful games and have two good teams going at each other. Obviously, we know each other pretty well, playing a lot over the years. It's going to be a nice dogfight."
Clevinger is 2-2 with a 2.91 ERA in 11 career appearances (eight starts) against the Twins but is 0-1 with a 4.32 ERA in four games (three starts) at Target Field. He'll be facing a Minnesota team that leads the majors with 224 home runs, one off the franchise single-season record set in 1963. The major league single-season record of 267 set in 2018 by the Yankees also is well within reach.
Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who has hit 32 home runs, is one of the hottest hitters in baseball, batting .426 with 13 homers and 27 RBIs in his last 15 games.
"We're ready," Cruz told the Star Tribune. "We have to take it one game at a time; (Thursday) we take care of that, and then worry about the next day."
"Best-case scenario, we're up by (six games) ... and everybody is feeling really peachy (at end of the series)," Gibson said. "So it can swing both ways pretty firm, but we're still pretty confident in how we're playing, and we know they're a good team, and we know we're a good team, and it should be four really good games."
--Field Level Media