Two games separate the Twins from the Indians in the AL Central race, and Thursday's opening game of a four-game series at Target Field between the two AL powers is something the Indians have been honing in on for months.
“This team has been circling those games,” Indians infielder Jason Kipnis said, according to Cleveland.com.
“This team has had one focus and one focus only the last two months and that’s been chasing down these Twins,” Kipnis added. “We did it even faster than maybe we might have thought.”
Cleveland swept the Rangers in a doubleheader Wednesday while the Twins got rocked by the Braves for a second straight day. Incredibly, Minnesota's 11.5-game lead on June 4 has been cut to two – and has been as low as one – in a matter of two months.
Records June 4:
- Twins 40-18
- Indians 29-30
- Twins 30-26
- Indians 39-16
FanGraphs still projects the Twins to win the division, giving them a 75.6% chance to be crowned AL Central champions compared to a 24.4% chance for the Indians.
A lot of that has to do with strength of schedule. Minnesota is tied with Houston for the easiest remaining schedule in the MLB, while Cleveland is tied with a handful of teams for the 13th-hardest schedule.
Nothing will play a bigger role than the 10 head-to-head games between the Twins and Indians over the next 53 days, but it cannot be ignored that Minnesota still has 26 games against the White Sox, Royals and Tigers.
Of Cleveland's 39 victories since June 4, 20 of them are against the Royals and Tigers.
Similar success should be had by the Twins, who are 7-3 against the White Sox, 6-3 against the Tigers and 9-3 against the Royals.
Extrapolate that winning percentage (.710) to the remaining 26 games against that trio and Minnesota is destined to win 18 or 19 of the 26. That's all fun and fancy, but the Twins still have to put on their boots and get it done.
The Indians, meanwhile, have to follow up their series with MInnesota with series' against the Red Sox and Yankees. That's not easy sailing.
The pitching matchups will favor Cleveland the first two games of the series as they'll send star right-handers Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber to the mound, whereas Minnesota has its All-Stars, Jake Odorizzi and Jose Berrios, lined up to pitch the weekend games.
- RHP Kyle Gibson (11-4, 4.02) vs. RHP Mike Clevinger (6-2, 3.07)
- LHP Devin Smeltzer (1-1, 2.28) vs. RHP Shane Bieber (11-4, 3.31)
- RHP Jake Odorizzi (12-5, 3.61) vs. RHP Adam Plutko (4-2, 4.55)
- RHP Jose Berrios (10-6, 3.24) vs. RHP Aaron Civale (1-1, 0.75)
"It will be a fun series to play. They’re [Twins] really good, we know that, but they’re also right in front of us, so it’ll be a good challenge," said Indians manager Terry Francona, vis 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland.
Thursday's game begins at 7:10 p.m.