The Cleveland Indians again are right in the thick of the AL Central race, and they are convinced there won’t be another second-half collapse.
Cleveland goes for a fifth consecutive victory Friday night when it visits the Minnesota Twins for the first time.
The Indians were three games out of first place and one-half game ahead of eventual division champion Detroit at last year’s All-Star break, but they dropped 36 of 47 before Sept. 1 and finished just two games in front of Minnesota for the Central’s worst mark.
“More than half of the team is new,” first-year Indian Nick Swisher, batting .242 with nine homers and 31 RBIs, told the team’s official website. “In that sense, you can’t bank on what happened in the past.”
Despite losing 16 of 20 from May 21-June 10, Cleveland (51-44) is just 1 1/2 games back of the division-leading Tigers after closing out the first half with a sweep of Kansas City.
“We like where we’re at right now,” said first-time All-Star Jason Kipnis, who had an RBI double in Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over the NL.
Cleveland, winner of four of six against Minnesota this season, kicks off its six-game trip with Scott Kazmir (5-4, 4.60 ERA) on the bump.
The veteran left-hander is 2-0 with a 2.32 ERA in his last five outings after posting a 7.98 ERA in his first three June starts.
“I feel like I’ve been a little more consistent,” Kazmir said after throwing 6 1-3 innings of two-run ball in Saturday’s 5-3 victory over the Royals.
Kazmir is 0-4 with a 5.31 ERA in eight starts outside Cleveland, but he’s won both of his outings against the Twins (39-53) this season, yielding three runs in 13 innings.
He’ll face a Minnesota team that’s 12 games off the Tigers’ pace. The Twins ended the first half with two road wins over the New York Yankees after losing 12 of 13.
“I believe we can run off a 10-game winning streak just like we ran off a 10-game losing streak (from May 14-24),” manager Ron Gardenhire told the Twins’ official website. “It would be a lot of fun to turn this thing around and that’s what my goal is.”
However, Gardenhire’s club could look much different in the coming weeks with general manager Terry Ryan actively looking to improve the Twins before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
“If you’re just talking about finishing the year on a positive note, I don’t think so,” Ryan said. “We’re talking about winning and getting into the postseason.”
Minnesota gives the ball to Mike Pelfrey (4-7, 5.55) as it tries to avoid its first six-game home losing streak since a seven-game slide April 13-27, 2012.
The right-hander has delivered quality starts in both outings since returning from a stint on the disabled list with a back strain. He wasn’t at his best his last time out, however, surrendering two homers and three runs in six innings of a 4-3 loss at Tampa Bay on July 11.
Pelfrey made his first career start against the Indians on May 5, striking out seven and permitting one run in six innings of a 4-2 victory.
Twins All-Star Joe Mauer, batting .478 during a six-game hitting streak, has hit safely in all six games of this divisional matchup in 2013.
Kipnis is 12 for 24 with a homer, three triples, three doubles, and 12 RBIs in those contests, but he’s 0 for 3 against Pelfrey.
Minnesota went 6-3 versus Cleveland at home last season.