CLEVELAND — It’s a new Twins lineup today, in more ways than one.
Joe Mauer will be in uniform tonight, in the first of three games at Progressive Field that loom far larger for the Twins than the first-place Indians. Mauer returns to the lineup exactly four weeks since his last appearance, and he’ll bat in the leadoff spot. That moves Brian Dozier down to fifth in the order, a shake-up that manager Paul Molitor hopes produces an end to the slump that has plagued Dozier all month.
“I talked to [Dozier] about it. I’m hoping he gets more chances with runners on base,” Molitor said of his second baseman, who is on an 0-for-19 skid at the moment. “I know that leading off is probably his first choice, but sometimes you’ve got to make a change.”
Mostly, the Twins need to change their losing ways. Back-to-back blown leads in Detroit have left Minnesota six games behind the Indians, so winning this series becomes a matter of survival in the AL Central race. And given that the Mariners are 10-3 in June, opening a 13-game gap over the Twins for the second wild-card spot, catching the Indians appears the only path to a playoff berth.
As if that doesn’t sound hard enough, the Twins face Corey Kluber tonight, a two-time Cy Young winner who appears intent upon winning a third. Kluber is 10-2, his ERA is 1.99, and he hasn’t walked a batter since May 8 — that’s 43 1/3 innings ago.
“The comment I read by somebody he faced the other week was true: ‘It reminded me of the [Greg] Maddux days. The balls that start in the zone probably are going to end up balls, and the ones outside the zone are going to be strikes,’ “ Molitor said. “But I think the guys will be up for it. I know when [I played], you used to love to play the best, and this is one of the best for sure.”
Taylor Motter is here as well, wearing uniform No. 45. He can play any position on the diamond, Motter said before the game, which is exactly why he was added to the roster.
Here are the lineups for the first of three games in Cleveland: