It’s likely that Minnesota has given up chasing first-place Kansas City in the AL Central. After a prolonged slump also put their wild-card pursuit in serious jeopardy, the Twins now have a chance to win back-to-back series for the first time in a month.
Standing in their way, however, is one of the hottest pitchers in the majors.
Carlos Carrasco takes the mound for Cleveland in Sunday’s finale looking to extend an impeccable stretch and help the Indians take two of three in this series.
After winning for the seventh time in eight games July 17, Minnesota (58-58) was 10 games over .500 and had a one-game edge for the first AL wild card. The Twins also were just four games behind the Royals in the Central.
Since then, though, the Twins have lost 18 of 26, allowing their division deficit to balloon to 12 games while Toronto, the Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore and Texas passed them in the wild-card standings.
The Indians (54-61) have played a part in the slump by taking two of three in Cleveland from Aug. 7-9 before opening this series with a 6-1 victory Friday. The Twins bounced back Saturday with a 4-1 win, and after taking two of three in Texas earlier this week, are in position to win two straight series for the first time since July 6-12.
That may prove a difficult task against Carrasco (11-8, 3.68 ERA), who has been an absolute workhorse over his previous three starts, tossing 26 innings while striking out 22 and issuing just two walks.
Despite his 1.04 ERA in that time, Carrasco has earned just one victory. The right-hander pitched a two-hitter July 30 to beat Oakland before logging nine and eight innings, respectively, in a pair of extra-inning losses to the Angels and Yankees. He allowed a combined five hits and two runs in those outings, but received just two runs of support
"He was very good," manager Terry Francona said after the Indians beat the Yankees in 16 innings Tuesday. "When your good hitters get later in the game and they’ve seen a number of pitches, they get more dangerous. But he was really good. To the point that I thought about letting him go out for the ninth, but I just thought that was good enough."
Carrasco’s numbers in seven career starts against Minnesota have been far below his recent output with a 1-3 record and 3.66 ERA. Since tossing 8 1-3 innings of three-hit ball to beat the Twins in June 2011, it’s been even worse. Over his last three starts in the rivalry, Carrasco is 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA and made it out of the fifth only once.
Left-hander Tommy Milone (5-3, 3.76) will be activated from the 15-day disabled list to oppose Carrasco after dealing with a mild left elbow strain.
Milone struggled prior to his DL stint, going 0-2 with a 7.98 ERA in three starts. The worst of it came at the beginning of that stretch when Milone lasted a season-low 2 2-3 innings against Oakland on July 19. After following that with two mediocre outings against the Yankees and Seattle, he’s allowed 13 earned runs over his last 14 2-3 innings.
"Regardless of how our offense does, I have to do my job and not give up any runs," Milone told MLB’s official website after a 6-1 loss to the Mariners on July 31. "It just didn’t happen today."
He is 1-1 with a 1.99 ERA in four career starts against the Indians.