WASHINGTON – The Twins maintain they have a shot in the AL Central.
A year ago, that would have been true, given that they were 1½ games behind Cleveland at the break last season. This season, the Indians lead by 7½ games and are in position to waltz to the division title. And that waltz could begin sooner if the Twins front office follows through on intentions of being a seller before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
“Their front office can do whatever it wants,” Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor said while banging his left hand on the table he sat behind during All-Star Game media day. “We focus on what we have in Cleveland. We have to make sure we take care of business and do things the right way.”
It’s understandable why Lindor was a little demonstrative. Cleveland went 4-6 over their past 10 games — losing series against the Athletics and Reds while splitting four games against the Yankees — and entered the All-Star break 52-43.
Once 12 games back, the Twins now trail by 7½. Cleveland has not been at its best.
Behind the Twins sit the Tigers, White Sox and Royals, three rebuilding teams. So like a pitcher spotted an eight-run lead in the second inning, the division is set up for the Indians to take. Their ability to close will determine how, or when, this race ends.
Cleveland played out of its mind the second half of last season, using a 22-game winning streak to go 55-20 after the break to win the division by 17 games over the Twins. In 2016, they were just 42-41 after the break but rolled in the postseason, before losing the World Series to the Cubs in seven games.
The Indians have battled injuries and several bullpen meltdowns leading into the break. Relief ace Andrew Miller has been out since May 26 because of a sore right knee but has started a rehabilitation program and could rejoin the Indians soon.
And the front office is expected to hunt for more bullpen help.
“We have played well in stretches,” righthander Corey Kluber said. “We haven’t played well in stretches [as well], but I think we’re in a good spot to hopefully improve and reach the postseason.”
For the Twins to pull off the unthinkable, they will have to start right after the break, when they embark on an 11-game road trip to Kansas City, Toronto and Boston. They return to play host to Cleveland in three games. The Indians have three games at Texas right after the break, then three games at home against Pittsburgh then three at Detroit — a more favorable schedule.
The season is not even through July, and there might be no playoff drama in the AL Central. The Indians might have to imagine that there’s a division race even when there doesn’t appear to be one.
“Of course there is [a race],” Indians outfielder Michael Brantley said. “This is Major League Baseball. A lot of things can happen in a short period of time and we have seen that happen before.”
Sano leaves team
Twins third baseman Miguel Sano, in the middle of a second spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., has left the team to return to the Dominican Republic to take care of a family matter.
It is not clear when he will return.