The playoff scenario for the Cleveland Indians is simple: win Sunday and they are in.
The Indians moved into sole possession of the AL wild-card lead on the next-to-last scheduled day of the regular season, beating the Minnesota Twins 5-1 Saturday behind Scott Kazmir’s strong start to extend their winning streak to nine.
Seeking their first postseason appearance since 2007, the Indians (91-70) took a one-game lead over Tampa Bay and Texas (both 90-71).
”We want to keep this roll going. This is so much fun,” Nick Swisher said.
Cleveland is assured of at least a tie for the AL wild card. With three teams seeking the two wild cards, Sunday’s results could decide the matter or lead to one or two tiebreaker games at the start of next week.
Carlos Santana homered for the Indians, who have won 14 of their last 16.
If the three teams are tied after Sunday, Cleveland would host Tampa Bay on Monday, with the winner advancing to the postseason. The loser would play at Texas on Tuesday for the second wild card.
In the event Sunday ends with a tie for the second wild-card berth, there would be a one-game tiebreaker Monday. Tampa Bay would host Cleveland, Texas would be home against the Rays or the Indians would host the Rangers.
The two wild cards would then meet in a postseason game Wednesday to determine which advances to the division series.
”Every time you win, it makes the next day that much more important, so we get to show up tomorrow and see if we can win a game,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. ”We need to be one run better tomorrow and then we go from there.”
After a rain delay of 2 hours, 26 minutes at the start, Kazmir (10-9) allowed one run and six hits in six innings, and Marc Rzepczynski, Cody Allen and Joe Smith each followed with an inning of hitless relief. Kazmir won his second straight start after going 1-5 with a 5.82 ERA in his previous seven outings. He is 3-0 against Minnesota this year with a 1.45 ERA.
”I was able to attack the strike zone and expand,” said Kazmir, who struck out 11 and has 43 strikeouts in 28 innings during September. ”I’m going out there and getting them in swing mode, and once I get two strikes, I have quite a few pitches I’m able to set them down with.”
Seven of Cleveland’s first 11 hitters struck out before Jason Kipnis singled in the fourth and Santana hit a two-run homer.
”Carlos’ swing was huge,” Francona said. ”It helped loosen up everything.”
Eric Fryer singled in a run in the bottom half for Minnesota, but Michael Bourn had a two-run triple in the fifth and scored on Kipnis’ single for a 5-1 lead.
”We’re still very hungry, so we’re going out there every day and grinding at-bats and making quality pitches,” Kazmir said. ”That’s something we can carry into the postseason.”
Hoping to make Minnesota’s 2014 rotation, Cole De Vries (0-2) allowed five runs and six hits in five innings. All five runs off him came with two outs.
”You usually want to put teams away when you get two outs. That’s tough, but its kind of the way it works sometimes. What are you going to do?” he said.
Minnesota has lost nine of 10, and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire will not win his 1,000th game this season. Gardenhire, who is not under contract for next year, is two victories shy.
”We just have not played good and it’s not been a lot of fun,” he said. ”I had more than one of them come up and apologize to me. I don’t need that. I know what they’re giving me. They’re giving me a lot. I appreciate the efforts and they don’t have to apologize for anything. They come and play. We just weren’t good enough this year.”
NOTES: Cleveland is 20-6 in September, its first month of at least 20 wins since August 1995. … Indians DH Jason Giambi left the game with left forearm cramping. He is day to day. … Bourn returned after missing three games with a sprained right wrist. … Minnesota C Josmil Pinto did not play after being hit on the right hand by a pitch Friday. He is expected to play Sunday. … Cleveland’s Ubaldo Jimenez (12-9) is scheduled to pitch Sunday against Minnesota’s Scott Diamond (6-12).