Since trading away their closer and a starting pitcher, the Minnesota Twins caught fire and re-emerged in the playoff picture.
Heading into the Tuesday series opener against the first-place Cleveland Indians at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota is 9-4 in August after a win Sunday against the Detroit Tigers. The Twins’ recent hot streak came after the club dealt away Brandon Kintzler and Jaime Garcia before the July 31 trade deadline.
Minnesota (59-57) is just a half-game out of the second American League wild-card spot. With the upcoming three-game series against Cleveland (64-52), the Twins have the opportunity to slice their five-game deficit in the AL Central.
“We’ve narrowed the gap on (the Indians) some,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said Sunday. “We’d like to think that that’s still in the balance. It’s more not so much you don’t want to go into any stretches where you allow things to change too dramatically in a short time. We were able to recover from the last little hiccup and get back in the mix.”
To start the series, the Twins will send Bartolo Colon to the mound to face the team he broke into the majors with — 20 years ago.
Since spending the first six years of his career in Cleveland, Colon has gone on to face the Indians 12 times. He is 7-4 with a 3.81 ERA against his former club but has yet to pitch against Cleveland this year.
The 44-year-old veteran’s last two outings with the Twins were impressive: a complete-game win against the Texas Rangers on Aug. 4, and seven shutout innings Wednesday in a victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Overall this season, Colon is 4-9 with a 6.77 ERA for the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota, including a 2-1 record and 4.02 ERA in five starts for the Twins.
Cleveland heads to Minneapolis after a brief trip to Boston for a makeup game Monday against the Red Sox. The Indians won 7-3 in the contest rescheduled from an Aug. 2 game that was rained out.
Opening the series for the Indians will be right-hander Danny Salazar, who is 4-5 with a 4.15 ERA in 16 games (14 starts) this year. He allowed just one run in his start Thursday at Tampa Bay but lasted just 5 1/3 innings.
Salazar will be making his 12th career start against the Twins. He has had mixed results against Minnesota, going 4-3 with a 4.45 ERA. Salazar beat Minnesota earlier this year by allowing just one run and striking out seven in six innings on April 17.
The Indians still will be without reliever Andrew Miller for the series against Minnesota, but the left-hander is expected to join Cleveland this weekend in Kansas City. Miller has been on the 10-day disabled list due to right patellar tendinitis.
Miller is scheduled to make a rehab appearance Wednesday with Triple-A Columbus.
“It would be hard, especially after he pitches the first time back, to fly to Minnesota for a noon game (on Thursday),” Cleveland manager Terry Francona told Indians.com. “That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But I would say, (if) everything goes according to plan, Friday he’ll probably join us.”
The Twins will host the Arizona Diamondbacks after Cleveland comes to town as part of a six-game homestand. The first three games of this stretch, though, could go a long way in determining the Twins’ playoff hopes.
“I’m really hoping there’s energy in our park,” Molitor said. “I think it will be helpful. I think you saw what happened with the Milwaukee series. We had energy. I think that can help us.”
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