MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins will have a much clearer view of the final two months of the season after this weekend. The American League Central will either be a runaway, or a dogfight.
Minnesota certainly would prefer the former, distancing itself as far away from the wild-card game as physically possible. But this weekend’s opponent might have something to say about that.
The Twins (70-44) and Cleveland Indians (68-46) enter Thursday’s tilt — the first of four games between the two teams to play out this weekend at Target Field — separated by just two games.
“We’ve got a big series coming this weekend,” outfielder Jake Cave said, “and I think we’ll be ready.”
That confidence permeated throughout the clubhouse on Wednesday afternoon, never mind the fact the Twins were just belted by the Braves twice in consecutive days or that Minnesota’s division lead that at one point was comfortably in the double-digits now stands at just a couple of games. Cleveland has won 39 of its past 55 games since starting the year 29-30.
“Anybody who wants to panic or kind of freak out because of the lead going wherever, I think if you trust the process and you trust how good this team is, I don’t think there’s any need to panic,” pitcher Kyle Gibson said. “I think if you asked anybody Aug. 1, especially Twins fans, if they’re two or three games up in the division, I think everybody is ecstatic. So I think it just is because of the process the last four weeks that people say, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ But I think you can’t look at it any different.”
“They’re a really good team,” Cave said of the Indians. “I think we’re a better team.”
So the Twins are confident, but not overly so. The Twins, led by rookie manager Rocco Baldelli, have thrived by not allowing any singular moment, game or series get too big yet this season. A similar approach will be taken this weekend — this isn’t do or die.
“This isn’t the last week of the season and down two games and you have to win six out of seven. This is Aug. 8 and you’ve got a (two)-game lead … and we’re going to be playing the team that’s behind us. If we go out and take care of business, then it’s definitely going to increase the cushion.”
The fact the Twins have a lead — however small it may be — is an advantage, per Gibson. Even should Minnesota lose Thursday, it will still be leading the Central.
“We’re pretty confident with where we’re at,” he said. “We understand that if we go and play our type of game, we play well, then the pressure is really not going to be on us at the end of the day.”
It’s GIbson who will try to get the Twins going on a good note Thursday. Behind him will be a fairly well-rested bullpen. A silver lining to the Twins’ two blowout losses against Atlanta was Minnesota didn’t use its top relievers in either defeat.
Cleveland, meanwhile, played (and won) a doubleheader at Texas on Wednesday. The latter game was a bullpen contest for the Indians in which no pitcher tossed more than three innings.
The Twins seem to have the advantage in the arms race, at least early in the series.
“We’ve got to take it one game at a time,” designated hitter Nelson Cruz said. “Tomorrow we take care (of business), and then we worry about the next day.”
Minnesota holds a 5-4 edge over Cleveland in nine games played thus far in 2019. Thursday marks the first of 10 games in which the Central’s top two teams will face off between now and the end of the season. Cruz prefers to have that kind of control.
“We have a single destiny,” he said. “If we want to go to the playoffs, so definitely we have to take care of business.”
Starting this weekend.
“Best-case scenario, we’re up by (six games) … and everybody is feeling really peachy (at the end of the weekend),” Gibson said. “So it can swing both ways pretty firm, but we’re still pretty confident in how we’re playing, and we know they’re a good team and we know we’re a good team, and it should be four really good games. Hopefully the fans enjoy it.”