Indians-Twins Preview

The last two years, the AL Central winner was decided in Game

163, but the Minnesota Twins can end the suspense much earlier this

season.

With some help, the Twins can clinch their second straight

division title Tuesday night when they continue a three-game series

against the Cleveland Indians.

Minnesota (90-60) learned a sore left knee could sideline Joe

Mauer for a few days, but with the AL Central crown nearly in hand,

it didn’t appear to matter as the Twins beat Cleveland (62-88) 9-3

on Monday, their 18th win in 23 games.

Michael Cuddyer and Danny Valencia homered for Minnesota, which

saw its magic number to clinch the Central lowered to two after

Chicago lost in Oakland later Monday. With a win and a White Sox

loss Tuesday, the Twins can become the first team in the majors to

clinch a postseason berth.

That’s a much easier position than Minnesota was in the previous

two years. The Twins lost a one-game playoff to Chicago to decide

the division in 2008, then had to beat Detroit in the same

situation to win the Central last year.

While the Twins said they aren’t too concerned about Mauer, who

is expected to get an MRI on Tuesday and is day to day, it helps to

have other hot hitters. Valencia has especially come up big down

the stretch, hitting three home runs in his last four games and

batting .391 since Aug. 31.

“You’re seeing a guy develop right in front of your eyes, and

he’s doing it during a pennant race,” manager Ron Gardenhire said

of his rookie third baseman, who turned 26 on Sunday.

Denard Span returned Monday after missing three games due to a

sore right shoulder and had two hits with two RBIs.

Minnesota could now get an additional boost from the return of

fellow outfielder Jason Kubel, who has missed four games with a

sore left wrist but is expected to be back in the lineup

Tuesday.

Making his first start since Sept. 2, Scott Baker (12-9, 4.60

ERA) will try to help the Twins wrap up the division.

Baker has been sidelined with elbow tendinitis since he lasted

two innings against Detroit in his last start, giving up two runs

and three hits. He did not get a decision as the game went to extra

innings.

Baker has won five consecutive decisions overall but has lost

both of his starts against Cleveland this year, allowing 11 runs in

10 1-3 innings.

Indians third baseman Andy Marte, who drove in two runs Monday,

is 5 for 13 with three home runs lifetime against Baker.

Fausto Carmona (12-14, 3.81) will take the mound for Cleveland,

looking to continue his strong finish to 2010.

Carmona is 1-2 in his last four starts, but has a 1.76 ERA over

that stretch. He gave up two runs and four hits in seven innings of

a 3-2, 11-inning win over Los Angeles on Thursday.

“Fausto continues to be terrific,” manager Manny Acta said. “He

had heavy life on his sinker.”

After giving up 11 runs in his first two games against Minnesota

this season, Carmona limited the Twins to three hits and struck out

seven in a 2-0 win Sept. 10, his fourth complete game of 2010.

He certainly won’t be happy to see Kubel back in the lineup. The

Minnesota right fielder is 13 for 34 with three home runs off

Carmona.

The Twins are seeking their fourth straight victory over the

Indians.