They have 18 such games left in the regular season to determine whether they take an early vacation or continue to play baseball in October.
Early vacation because for the last three years the Indians (83-61) have extended their season into October. Their last two ventures have ended quickly, but they do not see that as a reason not to return this year.
Perhaps that’s why the Indians, mediocre since putting a finger on first place in the American League Central, looked good in the role of contender in a 5-2 win over the Twins at Target Field.
The Indians have won five of the last seven games against the AL Central-leading Twins (88-55), but still trail them by 5.5 games. They open a three-game series against the Angels Monday night and then host the Twins on Friday at Progressive Field for the final series between the two teams. The Indians lead the season series, 9-7, against Minnesota, but trail on both fronts of their quest for the postseason.
Cleveland still trails Tampa Bay (86-59) by 2.5 games for the home position in the Wild Card Game hunt, and are 1.5 games behind Oakland (84-59) for the road position.
Mike Clevinger pitched into the seventh inning for the Tribe to improve to 10-0 in his last 13 starts. He struck out seven and allowed two runs.
“He came out really aggressive,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Clevinger, who has not lost since June 28. He is 10-0 with a 1.95 ERA in that stretch. “His fastball had a lot of life to it, and that was really good to see. They (Twins) make you work, even when he was pitching as good as he was. But Mike was terrific.
“He’s fun to watch, the evolution of maturity ... and I think like good pitchers or players, as they learn more about the league and themselves, as long as they stay healthy they get better,” he added. “People see the hair flying and everything else, but he works really hard.”
The Indians scored early against opener Randy Dobnak and lefty Devin Smeltzer, who did most of the heavy lifting for the Twins, with four innings of work. Franmil Reyes, who spent most of this series striking out, gave the Indians the lead in the second with a two-run single off Dobnak. Yasiel Puig walked and Jason Kipnis doubled to set the table for Reyes.
Carlos Santana made it 3-0 with a homer in the third. It was his 33rd of the season and 29th in his career against the Twins.
“We knew it was going to happen, but this was kind of odd because we didn’t know who it was going to be to start,” Francona said of the Minnesota bullpen game. “But it was cold and wet, and our guys did a good job. We showed up here to win, and that’s what we did.”
The Twins made it 3-1 on Mitch Garver’s leadoff homer in the fourth. It was his 29th of the season and third in the last two games.
Francisco Lindor kept the Tribe’s offense moving forward with a leadoff homer in the fifth. It was his second homer of the series and 29th of the season.
The Twins pressured Clevinger and Nick Wittgren in the seventh. Luis Arraez singled and Ehire Adrianza doubled to put men on second and third and knocked Clevinger out of the game. Wittgren relieved and LaMonte Wade beat out an infield single to Kipnis at second. Kipnis made a nice stop on the ball, but lost the transfer as Arraez scored to make it a three-run game.
Wittgren ended the rally by striking out C.J. Cron and Carver.
Brad Hand pitched the ninth for the save.
“Oliver and Nick both came in and got huge outs,” Francona said. “If they don’t do what they did there, we’re either still playing or we lose the game. With Brad, we’ve been trying to kind of protect him a little — because I think he feels the load we’ve put on him.
“But his fastball was better. We’re still trying to find that slot on his breaking ball — but he got them out.”
The Indians open a three-game series against the Angels Monday night at Angel Stadium at 10:07 p.m. SportsTime Ohio and WLKR 95.3 will carry the series.
Right-handers Shane Bieber (13-7, 3.24), Zach Plesac (7-6, 3.98) and Adam Plutko will start the series for the Indians. The Angels are scheduled to start three left-handers — Patrick Sandoval (0-2, 4.91), Jose Suarez (2-5, 6.45) and Dillon Peters (3-2, 4.45).