The Cleveland Indians begin their quest for a fourth consecutive American League Central Division championship against the team that is expected to be their toughest challenger, the Minnesota Twins, on Thursday afternoon at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Both teams will have a much different look since last fall when the Indians finished 91-71 and 13 games in front of the second-place Twins (78-84). In Minnesota’s case, it was planned. Not so much for the injury-plagued Indians.
Cleveland, which lost 10 of its 11 free agents including outfielder Michael Brantley (Astros) and relievers Cody Allen (Angels) and Andrew Miller (Cardinals), will begin the season with All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor (calf), second baseman Jason Kipnis (calf) and outfielder Bradley Zimmer (right shoulder) on the injured list.
The club also could be without All-Star third baseman Jose Ramirez, who was carted off the field in Sunday’s 7-3 Cactus League loss to the White Sox after fouling a ball off the inside of his left knee.
“When he couldn’t get up, your heart kind of goes to your throat,” Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters afterward.
X-rays were negative and Ramirez, who finished third in AL MVP voting after hitting .270 with 39 home runs, 105 RBIs and 34 stolen bases, is day to day. He remained at the team’s spring training complex in Goodyear, Ariz., for treatment when the team departed for Arlington, Texas, and two exhibitions with the Texas Rangers, but Francona said Ramirez will join the team in Minnesota.
Two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, who finished third in the voting last season after compiling a 20-7 record and 2.89 ERA, will make his fifth straight Opening Day start for Cleveland.
“It’s always an honor to pitch Opening Day,” Kluber said. “It’s exciting and the beginning of the season and all that. I think we have five guys who could be the Opening Day starter.”
Minnesota begins the post-Joe Mauer era with a new manager in Rocco Baldelli, who replaced Paul Molitor, and a lineup bolstered by free agent signings Nelson Cruz, who has hit 37 or more home runs in each of the past five seasons, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, utility man Marwin Gonzalez and reliever Blake Parker. The Twins also added first baseman C.J. Cron, who hit .253 with 30 homers and 74 RBIs last season with Tampa Bay, off waivers.
“The camp has been great,” Baldelli, who was the major league field coordinator for the Rays last season, told the MLB Network. “We’ve got a good vibe. … I couldn’t be happier with the way things have gone. It’s been phenomenal.”
Right-hander Jose Berrios (12-11, 3.84), who finished with 202 strikeouts in 192 1/3 innings during an All-Star season in 2018, will start the opener for the Twins.
Cleveland won the season series with Minnesota, 10-9, last season.
“That’s a good team,” Baldelli said. “This is a team we’re going to be dealing with all year long. This is a team that has extremely strong pitching, some really solid position players that when they get healthy and get out there … I think it’s going to be a battle every time we face these guys. I know (Francona) well. He does a phenomenal job and he’ll have guys ready to play.”
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