MINNEAPOLIS – For the Minnesota Twins, Monday night represents their last chance to begin repeating history.
Any chances the Twins have of making a surprise re-entry into the American League playoff race for a second straight year likely rest on sweeping the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians, who visit Target Field for the opener of a three-game series Monday night.
Ervin Santana (0-0, 5.40 ERA) is scheduled to make his second start of the season – and possibly his final start with the Twins – when he opposes the Indians’ rookie Shane Bieber (5-2, 4.80 ERA) in a battle of right-handers.
The Twins’ playoff hopes continued flickering Sunday, when they suffered their third straight loss by falling to the host Boston Red Sox, 3-0. The visiting Indians lengthened their division lead over second-place Minnesota to nine games by beating the Detroit Tigers, 8-1.
The weekend series against the Red Sox appeared to signal a shift into sell mode by the Twins (48-56), who made two trades Friday when they dealt shortstop Eduardo Escobar to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for three prospects on Friday and sent reliever Ryan Pressly to the Houston Astros for two prospects.
“We felt like where we were at this moment, for those decisions, it was the right decision for the organization moving forward,” Twins general manager Thad Levine told reporters in Boston on Saturday.
The move stung the holdovers from last year’s Twins squad, which began selling off pieces at the deadline – pitchers Jaime Garcia and Brandon Kintzler were dealt on consecutive days – but Minnesota ended up going 35-24 after Aug. 1 to win the AL’s second wild card.
“It just sucks when you put together a good team to accomplish something and you’re right there and you can taste it and there’s still a ways to go and all of a sudden this happens,” second baseman Brian Dozier, who has been the subject of free agents as an impending free agent, told reporters Friday. “That’s the most disappointing part.”
Of course, a return trip to the playoffs is a far longer shot this year than last year, when the Twins were 4 1/2 games out of the second wild card race after the games of July 31. The wild card is not an option this year for Minnesota, which is 13 1/2 games behind the current second wild card, the Seattle Mariners.
Barring a sweep at the hands of the Twins, the two-time defending AL Central champion Indians (57-47) can all but begin plotting for October. With that in mind, manager Terry Francona said Sunday the team will take it slowly with Andrew Miller, the shutdown left-handed reliever who is just 1-3 with a 4.40 ERA this season and hasn’t pitched since May 25 due to a nagging right knee injury.
Miller continued to struggle in his latest rehab assignment Saturday, when he gave up four runs (two earned) over two-third of an inning for Single-A Lake County.
“A month from now, when he’s striking guys out, nobody’s going to care that he had a couple tough outings in the minor leagues,” Francona told reporters Sunday. “But I think it shows that he needs to pitch, and I think he knows that.”
Santana, whose contract expires after the season, made his 2018 debut last Wednesday, when he didn’t factor into the decision after giving up three runs over five innings in the Twins’ 12-6, 11-inning win over the Toronto Blue Jays. He missed the first four months of the season recovering from right middle finger surgery.
Bieber endured the worst of his eight big league starts last Tuesday, when he took the loss after giving up seven runs over 1 2/3 innings as the Twins fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 9-4.
Santana is 7-11 with a 3.70 ERA in 25 career starts against the Indians. Bieber is 1-0 with a 3.97 ERA in two career starts against the Twins, the only team he has faced more than once.