The Cleveland Indians recently stood atop the AL Central as one the season’s pleasant surprises.
Poor performances from the starting rotation have quickly changed that, and Joe Mauer and the AL-worst Minnesota Twins would like to continue capitalizing.
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Justin Masterson will try to rebound from his worst outing of the year and help the Indians re-establish their dominance of the Twins in Sunday’s series finale at Progressive Field.
Cleveland (28-24) led the Central by 3 1-2 games as recently as May 24, when Masterson (2-4, 5.14 ERA) outpitched reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander in a 2-1 win over Detroit.
The Indians have dropped six of eight since, due in large part to a rotation that has compiled a 9.52 ERA and a .343 opponent batting average in that stretch, which has dropped Cleveland 1 1-2 games behind the Chicago White Sox.
Derek Lowe gave the Indians a strong outing in Friday’s series opener, throwing 6 2-3 innings of a 7-1 victory over Minnesota (19-33), but Cleveland’s rotation backslid again Saturday as Josh Tomlin gave up five runs and 10 hits in six innings of a 7-4 loss.
Masterson’s last performance was even worse.
The right-hander allowed seven runs in the first two innings Tuesday against Kansas City. He settled down and limiting the Royals to one run in the next five frames, but the damage was done and he got charged with an 8-2 loss.
“I’m glad he settled down, because it could’ve gotten ugly,” manager Manny Acta told the Indians’ official website. “But he pitched pretty well at the end. Unfortunately, it was too late for us. He started the season shaky and then he put a few good starts in order.”
Masterson went 1-0 with a 2.12 ERA in five starts against the Twins last year, and Mauer is 2 for 14 against him over the last two seasons.
Mauer had three hits – including a homer – and three RBIs in Saturday’s win, breaking out of an 0-for-10 slump over his previous three contests. He’s hitting .355 in his last 23 games at Progressive Field.
The Twins will give the ball to Scott Diamond (3-1, 2.27), who is 1-1 with a 4.08 ERA in his last three starts after throwing 14 scoreless innings over his first two following his recall from Triple-A Rochester.
Diamond didn’t get a decision Monday, allowing three runs and nine hits in 6 1-3 innings of Minnesota’s 5-4 win over Oakland.
The left-hander went 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in two starts against the Indians last year, allowing two hits including a double in three at-bats to Michael Brantley.
Brantley is currently riding an 11-game hitting streak, during which he’s batting .357 with 10 RBIs. The longest hitting streak of his career lasted 19 games from Aug. 30-Sept. 19, 2010.