CLEVELAND – Who knew, when Cleveland was sweeping the Twins at Target Field and the Twins were winning five out of six at Progressive Field, that it would come to this?
Both teams have something to play for during the final week of the regular season. The Twins are trying to clinch the AL’s second wild card, while the Indians are after baseball’s best record.
And it all goes down this week at Progressive Field.
Cleveland entered Tuesday 10-6 against the Twins, but the Twins have gained confidence from their success in the Indians’ park. This should still be a test, as the Twins arrive in the middle of the Indians’ run of dominance. Manager Paul Molitor doesn’t expect his team to back down, especially since they have played well here.
“I’m not going to be overly concerned how these games go other than I want to win,” he said. “You just keep looking for your team to keep doing what it has been doing. We have played well in this park, and we have matched up fairly well.”
Cleveland entered the series having won a ridiculous 29 of their past 31 games, putting them in the running with the Astros and Dodgers for the best record in the majors.
Indians manager Terry Francona feels much like Molitor, given his response when asked about the Twins’ ability to score in different ways.
“Well, I don’t really sit around and think of that because what I care about is trying to beat them [Tuesday],” Francona said. “The philosophy of how they got good is — I just care about how we’re going to beat [Bartolo] Colon [Tuesday] and how we’re going to move on to [Wednesday].
“I mean they’ve been a fun team to watch because they’ve scratched and clawed so much, so when you think they’re down and out, now all of a sudden their [magic] number is two. Anyone who knows [Twins Chief Baseball Office and former Indians exec] Derek Falvey is thrilled for them. Guess my hope is while they’re here, they clinch that spot but they clinch it by the other team losing.”
Still won’t go there
Before the game, Molitor continued to avoid directly answering questions about clinching the wild-card spot.
He has not forgotten about his 1982 Brewers team that led by four games with five to play and ended up needing to win on the final day of the regular season to reach the playoffs.
“I happen to have personal experience in watching a comfortable lead squandered in the last four days of a regular season,” Molitor said. “It was real. It happened.”
He grimaces when the postseason logistical questions come up in the clubhouse, as well as the media inquiries. He knows it’s part of being in the race the last week of the season.
“They had to have a [playoff] shares meeting, and MLB demands they do that,” Molitor said. “We had one two years ago, and no one got a penny.”
Kepler back in lineup
Outfielder Max Kepler was back in the starting lineup after missing Sunday because of a sore left hip suffered while he fielded a ball a night before.
“Talked to the trainers, watched him work out,” Molitor said. “… We think it is more like a bruise than any type of pain, so our risk is relatively nonexistent.”
Kepler, batting .243 with 19 home run and 68 RBI, is one player Molitor would like to see heat up during the final week.
“He is excited to be back, and he should be,” Molitor said. “And I’m glad to put his name down.”
• Molitor did not receive an update on third baseman Miguel Sano which, to him, means that nothing has changed. Sano is still undergoing treatment for a stress reaction in his left shin and has not recently attempted any baseball-related activities.