(Sports Network) - The Cleveland Indians may have little hope of finishing in first place in the American League Central, but they've done a fine job of hurting the postseason chances of some of the division's top teams as of late.
Riding a four-game winning streak, the cellar-dwelling Indians head to Minneapolis' Target Field tonight to take on another AL Central champion hopeful, the Minnesota Twins, in the opener of a three-game series.
Cleveland, which came out of the All-Star break 16 games behind front-running Chicago in the division standings, started off its second half in outstanding fashion, taking all four meetings with the contending Detroit Tigers. The Tribe received strong starting pitching in each game of the series, with rookie Jeanmar Gomez continuing the trend in Sunday's 7-2 triumph.
Called up from Triple-A Columbus earlier in the day to make a spot start in place of an ailing Justin Masterson, Gomez yielded two unearned runs and struck out four while walking just one over seven innings in an impressive major league debut. The 22-year-old, who had a suspect 5.70 ERA in 18 starts with the Clippers, allowed five hits and threw 60 of his 93 pitches for strikes.
Jhonny Peralta staked Gomez to an early lead with a three-run inside-the-park homer in the first inning, while Matt LaPorta added an RBI triple later on to help Cleveland record its first four-game sweep of the Tigers since May 31- June 3, 1991. Jayson Nix finished 3-for-5 and contributed an RBI single to the victory.
"It's the first time that I hit a homer inside the park," Peralta said. "When I saw [Raburn] jump into the wall, I tried to run really fast."
Cleveland, which ranks 12th in the AL in team earned run average, held the Tigers to a total of eight runs over the four games.
Aaron Laffey will attempt to continue the Indians' recent pitching prowess when he takes the mound in tonight's opener. The left-hander has made four starts since being inserted into the rotation in late June and has gone 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA during that stretch.
Laffey's final first-half assignment resulted in a loss, with the swingman surrendering three runs on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings at Tampa Bay on July 10. He's faced the Twins three times in relief earlier this season, giving up a pair of runs in a span of 3 2/3 frames.
The 25-year-old does own a 4-2 career record against Minnesota, with three of those wins coming in a starting role last season, and sports a 4.71 ERA in his 11 overall encounters (eight starts) with the Twins.
Minnesota has also gotten its post-All Star break slate off to a desired start, taking the final three tests of a critical four-game home set with the AL Central-leading White Sox. That performance has moved the Twins into a second-place tie with Detroit in the standings and within 1 1/2 games of Chicago's lead.
The Twins secured a series win in dramatic fashion on Sunday, scoring four times in the bottom of the ninth inning to deal the White Sox a startling 7-6 defeat. Michael Cuddyer scored the deciding run on a throwing error by Chicago outfielder Alex Rios to cap the improbable comeback.
With the Twins down 6-3 entering their final at-bat, Orlando Hudson and Joe Mauer drew back-to-back walks off Sox closer Bobby Jenks before Jason Kubel singled to bring home a run. Cuddyer followed with a base hit to plate Mauer and bring Minnesota within one, and after Jason Repko reached base via a walk, Delmon Young singled against reliever Sergio Santos to tie the score. Cuddyer had initially stopped at third on the play, but ran home when Rios' throw eluded the cutoff man to complete the rally.
Young also had a two-run homer while Cuddyer ended 3-for-5 with a triple and two RBI for the Twins. Brian Duensing (3-1) did his part as well, tossing four innings of one-run ball in relief of ineffective starter Nick Blackburn.
"I felt a little sluggish, thought I was fighting myself the first couple innings. Duensing said afterward. "The last couple innings I tried not to do as much and just throw strikes."
While the Twins seek to build off yesterday's thrilling win, Scott Baker hopes to continue his season-long success at Target Field when he toes the rubber tonight. The right-hander has compiled a 6-2 record with a 3.28 ERA in nine starts at the first-year ballpark thus far in 2010.
Baker was terrific in his most recent Target Field appearance, limiting Tampa Bay to a run and striking out eight without a walk over seven innings back on July 2. He wasn't as sharp in his subsequent outing, though, permitting five runs and serving up a pair of homers in six innings in a July 8 loss at Toronto.
The Oklahoma State product will be out to avenge a loss to the Tribe at Target Field on April 22, when Baker was reached for six runs and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings of work. He's 7-6 lifetime against Cleveland with a 3.50 ERA in 17 starts.
Minnesota took two of three tilts from the Indians in that April series in Minneapolis and is 4-2 overall against Cleveland this season.