Twins, Indians battle to avoid division cellar
By MATT BEARDMORE,
The Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians are well out of the AL Central race, but they'll both have a major impact on which team finishes first.
Their matchup this week could help determine if Minnesota or Cleveland ends up last.
The Twins will try to snap a three-game skid when they go for a fourth consecutive victory over the Indians on Tuesday night.
Long out of the playoff conversation, division-worst Minnesota (60-87) and Cleveland (61-86) head into this final 15-game stretch with the purpose of evaluating talent and building momentum into 2013.
However, both clubs will play a big role in helping to determine the division winner, as the Twins face second-place Detroit six more times and the Indians have six left with first-place Chicago.
"We want to see some fire at the end here," manager Manny Acta told the team's official website. "Facing the Tigers, the White Sox, teams that are fighting for a spot, it's going to be better for us to judge these guys, because they're not going to be facing just callups."
Cleveland continues its homestand following Sunday's 7-6 walkoff win over the Tigers, while Minnesota comes to town after getting swept by the White Sox.
The Twins have dropped five of six since winning three straight over the visiting Indians from Sept. 8-10.
"We have a day off that's much needed," manager Ron Gardenhire told the Twins' official website following a 9-2 loss Sunday. "We're starting to get some guys healthy and back on the field, which is a good thing. We've got a road trip through Cleveland and Detroit, so hopefully we'll play better baseball on the road."
The Twins, winners of four of six in Cleveland this season, should have Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit available for this three-game set after both returned from injury Sunday.
P.J. Walters (2-4, 6.70 ERA) will make his third appearance after missing nearly three months due to shoulder inflammation. The right-hander is 0-2 with a 12.00 ERA since returning after giving up six runs in four-plus innings of a 10-5 loss to Kansas City on Wednesday.
Five of the runs Walters surrendered scored in the fifth.
"He couldn't get an out," Gardenhire said. "Ball started flying all over the place. That was one bad inning."
David Huff (1-0, 0.00) pitched 3 1/3 outstanding innings against Minnesota earlier this month and will make his first start for Cleveland in nearly a year Tuesday.
The left-hander has made two appearances - both on the road - since getting called up from Triple-A Columbus on Sept. 4. In his first game since throwing 5 2-3 innings of two-run ball in an 8-2 home win over Minnesota on Sept. 24, Huff retired all 10 he faced and struck out four in a 7-6 victory at Target Field on Sept. 7.
Catcher Carlos Santana has been swinging a hot bat for Cleveland this month, hitting .316 with team highs of two homers, four doubles, two triples and 10 RBIs. Santana leads the club with four home runs and 12 RBIs against Minnesota this season.
He has never faced Walters.
Mauer is 9 for 20 with a homer and a double versus Huff, while Justin Morneau has six hits - four doubles - in 17 at-bats off the left-hander.
Morneau has a team-high six homers and 19 RBIs versus Cleveland this year.
The Twins lead the season series 10-5 and have won 10 of the last 12 meetings.