Twins try to gain more ground on Indians

Though not even halfway through the season yet, it’s a good bet that neither American League wild card spot will go to a team from the Central Division.

So if the Minnesota Twins hope to advance to the playoffs for a second straight year, they’ll need to win their division, which means they need to knock off the teams ahead of them.

That makes Sunday’s series finale with the Cleveland Indians at Target Field all the more important.

The Twins have won two straight against Cleveland after Lance Lynn pitched six solid innings and Eddie Rosario hit a two-run homer. With a victory Sunday, Minnesota would sit 3 1/2 games back of the two-time defending division winner.

Detroit still separates the Twins from Cleveland but the fact that they have yet to reach full strength is reason for optimism, even if it’s hindering the team right now.

Byron Buxton is on the disabled list for the second time this season but Minnesota hopes that this stint will finally result in him returning healthy. Joe Mauer is rehabbing as he recovers from a strained neck and concussion-like symptoms.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the full version of our club yet,” manager Paul Molitor said.

After dropping the series opener in heartbreaking fashion, Molitor had a team meeting before Friday’s game.

“Most of my meetings over the last three years have been relatively positive,” Molitor said. “I try to find something to build on instead of tear down.

“Specifically, we talked about the way we’ve been losing games. “To me, it’s not always about getting walked off, it’s about something that happened in the third inning we screwed up that (lost) us a chance to score a run. So that was some of the things we talked about yesterday. The mindset of baserunning. There were some general things that were discussed.”

The message apparently was received. Minnesota has responded with two straight victories, outscoring the Indians 14-5 in those contests.

Kyle Gibson will try to lock up a series victory and his first against Cleveland since September 30, 2015.

In six starts since, Gibson is 0-4 against the Indians and allowed three runs on seven hits over four innings in his last meeting with Cleveland on Aug. 17 of last season.

Gibson threw seven shutout innings in his last start but took a no-decision as the Twins fell to Kansas City. Prior to that, Gibson had posted a 4.66 ERA over a five-start stretch.

Despite the last two losses, Cleveland is 8-4 in its last 12 games. After Trevor Bauer allowed seven runs in 5 2/3 innings Saturday, Mike Clevinger will start the series finale.

Clevinger also performed well in his last outing. The right-hander held the White Sox to a run over 6 2/3 innings, striking out seven with only one walk to snap a two-game personal losing streak in Cleveland’s 7-3 win on Tuesday.

“He’s had those games where he’s had trouble with three or four hitters in a sequence,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said after that outing. “Tonight he limited that to one or two and pitched really well.”

He’s 2-1 with a 1.61 ERA on the road this season

In three career appearances (two starts) at Target Field, Clevinger is 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA and has struck out 14 in 10 2/3 innings.

He is 1-2 with a 3.74 ERA in seven games (four starts) versus Minnesota.