CLEVELAND — Wild-card-hunting Minnesota is hot, but no team is hotter than the Cleveland Indians, who will host the Twins on Tuesday night at Progressive Field in the opener of a three-game series.
The Twins come to Cleveland fresh off a four-game sweep of the Tigers in Detroit, and Minnesota’s magic number for clinching the second American League wild-card spot is two.
Minnesota leads the Los Angeles Angels by five games with six to play.
The Twins outscored Detroit 39-12 during the sweep.
“We’re going to go into Cleveland, where they don’t lose much,” Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. “We get that, but we’ve just got to try to keep it going.”
The Indians are epically hot.
Since Aug. 24, Cleveland is 29-2, including an American League-record 22-game winning streak. In the Indians’ last 17 games away from home, they went 16-1 en route to setting a franchise record for road wins, going 53-28 away from Progressive Field.
The Indians are 45-30 at home, 98-58 overall. They need to win just two of their six remaining games to reach the 100-win mark for only the third time in franchise history.
Minnesota reached the century mark last year — in losses. The Twins went 59-103 in 2016, but they have authored an impressive one-year turnaround and are closing in on their first trip to the postseason since 2010.
“We’ve talked a lot since the beginning of the season about trying to get this thing going back in the right direction,” Molitor said. “We tried to put last year behind us as best we could, maybe try to use it as motivation. But more than anything, it was a tremendous learning experience, even though it was tough to endure at times. So it’s been a lot of curves in the road, some good and some not so good. But here we are, with a chance to extend our season.”
The Indians have already clinched their second consecutive AL Central title, but they also have something to play for in the final week of the regular season. Cleveland is two games ahead of the Houston Astros (96-60) for the best record in the American League while trying to catch the Los Angeles Dodgers (100-57) for the best record in the majors.
The Indians are also trying to break in a new center fielder. Second baseman Jason Kipnis, who has made three trips onto the disabled list for various ailments, is trying to make a late-season conversion to center field. He is replacing rookie Bradley Zimmer, who is not expected to return this year after breaking his left hand.
Kipnis played center field in college at Arizona State, but had been a second baseman exclusively in the big leagues.
Kipnis has started five games in center, and he has not been greatly tested defensively. At the plate, he went 5-for-15 with three RBIs in those games.
“You’re going to see me get more comfortable every game,” Kipnis said. “It’s nice to get some good at-bats and get some hits. There’s one week left, but I’m happy with where I’m at.”
The pitching matchup Tuesday night will be Cleveland right-hander Josh Tomlin (9-9, 4.98 ERA) vs. Twins right-hander Bartolo Colon (6-14, 6.63 overall).
Colon made his major league debut with the Indians on April 4, 1997. The 44-year-old veteran signed with the Twins as a free agent in early July after being released by Atlanta. In 13 starts with the Braves, he was 2-8 with an 8.14 ERA, and in 13 starts with the Twins, he is 4-6 with a 5.33 ERA.
Colon started once against the Indians this year, an 8-1 loss on Aug. 15 in which he gave up three runs on seven hits, including three home runs, in five innings. In 13 career starts against Cleveland, he is 7-5 with 3.90 ERA.
Tomlin is 1-2 with a 3.66 ERA in three starts against Minnesota this year. He is 5-6 with a 5.21 ERA in 17 career appearances against the Twins.
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