The two front-runners in the AL Central faced off in home and away series on consecutive weekends. The defending AL champions from Cleveland have yet to hit their stride this season, while the upstart young Minnesotans continue to surprise, leaving pundits still waiting for the Twins’ Cinderella start to reach midnight. More after the jump.
The Twins took a two game lead into the first series at home, where Minnesota has struggled with just 14 wins in their first 34 home games. The Indians had held their own on the road, with a 17-14 record heading into the series. Neither team was streaking heading into this set, with Minnesota at 5-5 over their last 10, and Cleveland at 4-6.
Game 1 matched Carlos Carrasco for the Indians against Nik Turley for the home side. Turley is a 27 year-old rookie southpaw making the second appearance of his career after getting an ND against the Giants in his debut of 4 IP, allowing 4 runs on 8 hits. In his ninth major league season, all with the Indians, Carrasco started off the campaign strongly with 6 quality starts in his first 7 outings, but had had only one QS over his last 5 before this assignment. In this contest, the Indians would get to Turley early, scoring eight times over 4.2 IP, the big blow a three run home run by Edwin Encarnacion in the third, with catcher Yan Gomes also collecting three RBI on a pair of run-scoring singles. Carrasco pitched into the 7th with his only blemish a home run by left-fielder Eddie Rosario leading off the 6th inning. Final score: Indians 8, Twins 1
Carrasco in his next start will become the 15th Indian pitcher of the expansion era with 125 starts through his age 30 season. Carrasco’s 3.29 ERA since 2014 ranks 5th best in the AL among pitchers with 500+ IP. Turley is the third lefty starter aged 27 or older to debut for the Twins in the past 5 seasons; there had been only one such pitcher for Minnesota (Tom Klawitter in 1985) in the 57 seasons before that.
Game 2 was the first end of a Saturday double-header and, like the previous evening’s contest, saw Cleveland jump to an early lead, getting to Twin starter, lefty Adam Wilk, for three first inning runs. All the damage came after Wilk retired his first two batters in just 5 pitches, with the Indians extending Wilk for another 36 pitches before he was able to record the final out. Cleveland would send Wilk to the showers after tagging him for three more runs in the 3rd and 4th innings, but the Twins hung around with three runs of their own in those frames. The Indians would put the game away in the 6th with a Jose Ramirez home run, his second of the game, and a Bradley Zimmer RBI groundout, for both their third run-scoring ABs of the contest. Final score: Indians 9, Twins 3
Ramirez’s two home runs gave him 11 for the season, matching his total for all of 2016. His four RBI pushed him past 150 for his career to become the fourth Indian third baseman to do so through his age 24 season. Quiz: who were the first three Tribe third sackers with this accomplishment?
Though still with rookie status, Wilk is pitching for his fourth franchise in his four major league seasons, and is still looking for his first win; if he doesn’t get one this season, he would join Mike Fyhrie as the only two pitchers (out of 89) without a win after 5+ starts for four or more teams over their first four seasons.
In the second game of the twinbill, the Game 3 starters were rookie southpaw Adalberto Mejia for the Twins going against second year right-hander Mike Clevinger for the Tribe. Neither starter would last 5 innings though both acquitted themselves reasonably well with Clevenger allowing only a run-scoring double and Mejia just a pair of solo blasts. So, this game was put in the hands of both bullpens with the outcome still very much in play. Alas, it didn’t take long for the Twin relievers to crack, with Tyler Duffey relieving Mejia and yielding a three run homer to his fifth batter, Indian outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall. Final score: Indians 6, Twins 2
This is the 14th team in Twins/Senators history to have three rookie left-handers with a start, but it’s the first time in franchise history that different rookie left-handers have started three consecutive games. Chisenhall had a pair of home runs in this game, good for four RBI that pushed his season totals to 10 home runs and 35 RBI in just 43 games games played. Brian Dozier homered for the Twins, his 12th long ball of the season; after his 42 HR/99 RBI campaign last year, Dozier looks to be tracking to the form he displayed in the two prior seasons, with OPS in the .750 to .800 range, still very respectable results for any middle infielder.
The Tribe went for the sweep in Game 4 with Trevor Bauer on the hill to face Twin right-hander Kyle Gibson. This game was all about Cleveland free agent signee Edwin Encarnacion who staked the Indians to a 4-0 lead with home runs in the 3rd and 6th innings and an RBI single in the 7th, and then added an insurance sac fly in the 9th after the Twins had cut the lead in half with a pair of two out RBI hits in the home 7th. Final score: Indians 5, Twins 2
Encarnacion and Chris Davis are neck and neck for most home runs since 2012, with Double-E closing a four home run gap at the start of the season to just one as of June 26th. Nelson Cruz stands third, 18 behind Encarnacion. Driving in all of a team’s 5+ runs with 3 or more hits doesn’t happen too often – by my count, this was just the 126th time since 1913, by 121 different players, including pitcher Wes Ferrell (Aug 12, 1936). This is the 8th straight season with at least one such game, tied with 1966-73 for the most such consecutive seasons. The most times in one season was 5 in 2004, all in the back half of schedule, including three in 5 days and two on the same day (Aug 18). Mike Greenwell has the most RBI in such a game, with 9 on Sep 2, 1996, followed by Bob Johnson (Jun 12, 1938) and High Pockets Kelly (Jun 14, 1924) with 8 RBI.
After getting skunked in this series, the Twins’ home record stood at 14-24 (.368). That’s the 5th worst home winning percentage after 67 games in franchise history; the four worse teams posted a collective .375 winning percentage (equivalent to 61-101) in those seasons (1981, 1982, 1995, 2016).
After the first series, the Twins stayed at home and took 2 out of 3 from the White Sox, while the Indians traveled to Baltimore and won 3 out of 4 against the Orioles, extending their road record to 24-15, a .615 clip that is the franchise’s 9th best mark since 1913 after 71 games. Those results left the Tribe with a 2½ game lead when the second series got underway in Cleveland.
Game 1 at Progressive Field matched Trevor Bauer against Adalberto Mejia. Minnesota got to Bauer for four second inning runs, including a two run blast by shortstop Jorge Polanco. Mejia was steady again this night, holding Cleveland scoreless through 5 innings of 2 hit ball, totals matched by the Twin bullpen over the final four frames. Final score: Twins 5, Indians 0
This was Mejia’s 10th major league start as he became the 43rd Twin to reach that milestone in his first 15 career games. Of that group, Mejia is (so far) just the 6th to allow more walks than earned runs in those starts, but he’s in good company with the likes of Dave Boswell and Scott Erickson. As in the first series, Mejia was relieved by Tyler Duffey who this night turned in two hitless frames, his 10th multi-inning appearance of the season, eight of them scoreless; Tyler’s success in these extended outings is reflected in his pitch counts, exceeding 30 just once in those 10 games. Polanco hails from San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic (pop. 195,000), and is the fifth shortstop from that city (but first since Jose Offerman more more than 25 years ago) to record 500+ PA before his age 25 season.
Trevor Bauer has had a rocky start to his season, with a 5.53 ERA over 15 starts. Bauer’s 4.56 ERA since 2012 is 9th worst among 94 pitchers with 100 starts over that stretch, but his 22.1% strikeout rate ranks in the top 25 of the group and is the best among those with the 30 worst ERA scores.
Kyle Gibson got the call for the Twins in Game 2, going up against Indian ace Corey Kluber. Minnesota got the early jump with a pair of unearned runs in the first frame, but Kluber shut the door over the next 6 innings, leaving the game with the score knotted at two. With the top of the Twins order due in the 8th, Terry Francona went to closer Cody Allen, who lost a 7 pitch duel with leadoff man Brian Dozier whose solo shot provided the margin of victory. Final score: Twins 4, Indians 2
Francona’s move to his closer in a tie game at home is in keeping with recent practice when a save opportunity is unlikely or impossible. But, anecdotal observation suggests that closers aren’t the same in non-save situations and Cody Allen is no exception. Although his career ERA (2.60 in save situations, 2.56 otherwise) is essentially identical, Allen’s SO/BB ratio in save situations (4.77) is almost double his mark in other games (2.61) with most of that difference due to a walk rate that balloons from 2.73 in save situations to 4.05 otherwise.
Since returning from a month on the DL, Kluber has been his old self, with 5 straight quality starts, including his second shutout of the season. While 200 IP for the fourth straight season is probably not in the cards, 225 strikeouts could be. Kluber is already the first Indian since Sam McDowell with three straight 225 strikeout seasons; a fourth would put Kluber in the exclusive company of Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw, among active pitchers, .
This time it was the Twins going for the sweep and they had the right man on the hill for Game 3 with ace Ervin Santana getting the call against Josh Tomlin for the home side. Santana did not have his best stuff, allowing 9 hits over 6 innings, but still held the Tribe off the scoresheet as Cleveland left runners on base in each of those frames. Minnesota also left runners on base in each of their 6 cracks against Tomlin, but still managed four runs, on one run-scoring hit with RISP, and two without RISP. With the starters departed, the bullpens took over, yielding nary a run or hit by either team. Final score: Twins 4, Indians 0
How unusual is a starter posting a goose egg when allowing 9 hits or more in an outing of 6 innings or less? Actually, this was just the 3rd such game by a Twin or Senator since at least 1913, including just one before this century. This was the first time in the past 5 seasons that the Indians have been shutout twice in the same home series, but the first time the Twins have turned that trick against Cleveland since winning both ends of a July 24, 1963 double-header. Minnesota also had a 1-0 win in Cleveland earlier this season, making this the first season since 1945 with three shutout road wins by the Senators/Twins over the Tribe.
After 7 games and 7 wins by the visitors, Minnesota had regained the division lead, but just barely, by only a ½ game. The Twins can thank their 23-9 record in road games, a .719 winning percentage that is a franchise best after 73 games since at least 1913. That’s a good omen for Minnesota as the three of the franchise’s next four best road winning percentages after 73 games all belong to playoff teams, in 1933, 1970 and 1925.