The Cleveland Indians' aspirations of winning their fourth consecutive American League Central title were dealt a significant blow after a doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Minnesota Twins on Saturday.
The Indians (86-63) aim to avert a potential knockout blow on Sunday afternoon against the visiting Twins (91-57), who bid to inch closer toward their first division title since 2010.
AL Central-leading Minnesota holds a 5.5-game lead over Cleveland with 14 contests remaining on its schedule. The Indians, in turn, are 2 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay for the second wild-card spot with 13 to play on their slate.
Cleveland saw a three-run lead go by the boards as Miguel Sano's first career grand slam capped a five-run eighth inning in the Twins' 9-5 win in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader.
"These are important games, of course. It was a lot of fun," Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli told reporters after the game. "(Sano's homer) was a tremendous swing in a very challenging, dramatic moment. These are emotional games, and it was a huge play and a huge swing."
Sano's homer was the fourth hit by the Twins on Saturday, including Jorge Polanco's two-run shot in the first game -- a 2-0 victory.
"It doesn't matter how long the day is if you win games," the 26-year-old Polanco said. "It means a lot to win an important series."
Cleveland manager Terry Francona was left to lament what might have been after seeing Minnesota score seven unanswered runs in the nightcap.
"We just made some bad pitches to the wrong hitters," Francona said. "There was a lot in between, but hanging a couple of breaking balls to those guys hurts."
The Twins will follow two bullpen games to complete the sweep by sending right-hander Randy Dobnak (0-1, 2.25 ERA) to the mound for the series finale.
Dobnak, who was a late switch from right-hander Jose Berrios, will make his third start and seventh appearance this season. The 24-year-old has faced Cleveland on two occasions this season, tossing four scoreless innings in a no-decision on Aug. 9 and allowing two runs on three hits in two innings of a 5-2 setback last Sunday.
Rookie Oscar Mercado, who is 1-for-3 against Dobnak, collected extra-base hits in each of his first three at-bats after going 2-for-3 in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader. The 24-year-old has recorded at least three hits in 10 games, the most by an Indians rookie since Francisco Lindor in 2015.
"Any time you feel good at the plate, it's a good thing," said Mercado, who is 16-for-42 with four doubles, a home run and six runs scored in his last 10 games.
"You just find a way to carry it to at-bat to at-bat. Unfortunately, it wasn't able to translate into a win."
Cleveland right-hander Shane Bieber (14-7, 3.17), who will get the nod for the finale, has answered an 0-3 stretch in four starts with back-to-back victories.
Bieber has won both decisions against Minnesota this season to improve to 3-0 with a 3.83 ERA in seven career appearance (six starts).