If that’s the case, they have one game to win and that comes Sunday afternoon.
The Indians (70-47), with a chance to take sole possession of first place in the AL Central, spent Saturday night wasting scoring chance after scoring chance in a 4-1 loss to the Twins. The Twins (71-47) once again stand alone atop of the division.
Cleveland continues to lead the AL wild card by 2.5 games over Tampa Bay, and are four games ahead of Oakland.
Strong starts by Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber helped the Indians win the first two games of the series. The Twins countered with their winningest starter on Saturday night. Jake Odorizzi (13-5, 3.44) bobbed and weaved through 5 2/3 scoreless innings for the win. Sunday’s pitching matchup has to favor Minnesota as well with 10-game winner Jose Berrios facing rookie Aaron Civale.
The Indians came into this series trailing the Twins by two games. A split would leave them in the same spot. That’s why Kipnis believes winning the series is so important.
Adam Plutko (4-3, 4.68) started for the Indians on Saturday and he couldn’t find a happy medium. When he was good he was very good. When he was bad, well, you get the point.
Plutko held the high-scoring Twins to four runs on nine hits in six innings. But when the Twins struck, they struck hard. The bulk of Minnesota’s offense came in a flurry of seven straight hits. Six came with two outs in the fourth. No. 7 came courtesy of Max Kepler’s leadoff homer in the fifth.
Plutko worked the first three innings with no problems. He started the fourth by retiring Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario on harmless fly balls. Then things changed.
Mitch Garver doubled off Jose Ramirez’s glove at third. Rookie Luis Arraez tripled to the gap in right center for a 1-0 lead. C.J. Cron singled home Arraez for a 2-0 lead. Marwin Gonzalez singled Cron to second. Then Ehire Adrianza struck the fifth straight hit of the inning, a ground single to right.
Cron tried to score, but Puig threw him out by 10 feet to end the inning.
Plutko came out for the fifth and promptly allowed the leadoff homer to Kepler for the Twins’ sixth straight hit and a 3-0 lead. As quickly as Plukto had lost it, he rediscovered it by retiring the next six batters. Manager Terry Francona sent him out for seventh and Plutko allowed a leadoff homer to Gonzalez and a single to Adrianza to end his night.
The Tribe’s offense never got a big hit against Odorizzi, who walked four and allowed six hits. Puig supplied their only offense with a long homer in the seventh. It was his first as an Indians and 23rd of the season.
The Indians put runners on base in every inning, but had little to show for it. They went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
Francisco Lindor opened the game with a walk. Carlos Santana singled him to second with one out. Odorizzi struck out Puig and retired Ramirez on a fly ball to right. He set a pattern that held true for the rest of the night
In the second they were denied a run when shortstop Jorge Polanco prevented Tyler Naquin’s single from reaching center field. Greg Allen, who walked and took second on a ground out, had to stop at third after Polanco’s knocked the ball down. Lindor grounded out to end the inning.
Santana walked and Puig singled with one out in the third. Ramirez struck out and Jason Kipnis walked to load the bases. Odorizzi struck out Allen to end the threat.
Lindor’s two-out double went to waste in the fourth. Ditto for Puig’s double high off the wall in right center in the fifth.
The sixth may have been the most frustrating of all. Allen hit a leadoff double past first. He went to third on Roberto Perez’s fly ball to the track in left center. And there he stayed. Odorizzi popped up Naquin to end his night’s work. Sergio Romo relieved and retired Lindor on a shallow fly to right.
The start of the game was delayed by 1 hour and 51 minutes because of rain.
The Indians and Twins conclude this four-game series on Sunday afternoon at 2:10 p.m. with Civale (1-1, 0.75) facing Minnesota Jose Berrios (10-6, 3.24). SportsTime Ohio and WLKR 95.3 FM will carry the game.
Civale, making his third big-league start, has never faced the Twins or pitched at Target Field. He has allowed one run in 12 innings. Berrios is coming off a loss to Atlanta in which he allowed a career-high nine earned runs in 5 2/3 innings. He is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in three starts against the the Tribe this season.