They can advance that effort further while essentially eliminating a fringe wild-card contender as they host the Boston Red Sox for a three-game series beginning Monday.
Whichever team loses the AL Central will be in prime position to win a wild card as the Indians and Twins are 2 1/2 games up on the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in those standings. The Red Sox, meanwhile, are now 7 1/2 games back and appear close to waiving the white flag on defending their 2018 World Series championship.
The series kicks off Monday with Indians rookie right-hander Zach Plesac (6-3, 3.13 ERA) taking the mound opposite Red Sox southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez (13-5, 4.17).
Plesac made his major league debut in Boston earlier this season, where the Indians took two of three. In that outing, he gave up one run on four hits and one walk in 5 1/3 innings — a precursor to what’s been an impressive debut campaign for the 24-year-old.
Plesac is coming off one of his best starts, hurling six shutout innings against the Texas Rangers as part of a doubleheader last week. He gave up just five hits and struck out seven.
By sweeping that twin bill, Cleveland carried momentum into its pivotal series with Minnesota, which culminated in a 7-3 victory in 10 innings in Sunday’s finale. Carlos Santana’s grand slam in the top of the 10th served as the decider after closer Brad Hand blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth.
“It was a fun series,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think our players enjoyed it. They’re a good team over there. We know that. Now, we’ll enjoy it for a plane ride and then we better get ready, because Boston will be ready for us when we get home.”
The Red Sox, though, enter the series in further disarray after losing their last two in a four-game set with the Los Angeles Angels. Sunday’s finale saw host Boston come from behind to take the lead in the fifth, only to allow the Angles to tie in the eighth and win in the 10th.
As part of the collapse, reliever Matt Barnes blew his seventh save of the year — the team’s 21st overall. Boston burned through six bullpen arms after starter Andrew Cashner was pulled after walking five and giving up three runs through 1 2/3 innings.
“We’ve been inconsistent,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who told the media the team will reassess its struggling rotation Monday in Cleveland. “It’s tough to make the playoffs (when you’re inconsistent).”
The Red Sox have lost 11 of their last 14 games, while the Indians have won nine of 12.
Rodriguez will face Cleveland for the first time this season — he’s 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA in two previous career starts against the club. His last time out, Rodriguez gave up two runs on seven hits in five innings in a no-decision to the Kansas City Royals.
Rodriguez walked three in that outing and has given up 31 free passes in his last 61 1/3 innings.
—Field Level Media