MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The Minnesota Twins have put on quite the power display this season at Target Field.
The Atlanta Braves produced an even bigger show of strength to win this interleague series between first-place teams.
Ozzie Albies homered twice in his second straight four-hit game, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman both went deep, and the Braves again bashed their way past the Twins 11-7 on Wednesday.
“They’re relentless. That’s a really good ballclub,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said, reflecting on the Twins and their majors-most 224 home runs that is well on pace to break the all-time season record. “You never feel good against this club until the game’s over.”
Max Fried (13-4) used a season-high 10 strikeouts to win his fourth consecutive start, pitching into the sixth inning before finding trouble. The terrific trio at the top of the lineup provided more than sufficient support, with Acuña, Albies and Freeman combining for eight hits and five RBIs in 15 at-bats. They were 23 for 45 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs in this three-game series.
Fried struck out seven of the first nine batters he faced. He’s 6-0 in his last nine starts on the road, becoming the first Braves left-hander to reach the 13-win mark since Mike Minor in 2013.
“When you already have a couple runs across, it makes it easier to relax and try to make a few pitches,” catcher Tyler Flowers said.
Albies and Freeman each connected on the first pitch they faced from Martín Pérez in the first inning, just like Acuña and Freeman did in the first and third innings on Tuesday night against Twins All-Star Jose Berrios. Charlie Culberson went 4 for 5 with two RBIs, Johan Camargo drove in three runs, and the Braves reached double-digit runs and 16 hits for the second straight day. This was the fifth time in three weeks the Twins allowed 10-plus runs.
The total would’ve been higher had it not been for the triple play turned in the third inning by third baseman Miguel Sanó, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and first baseman C.J. Cron on a sharp grounder hit by Flowers. That was the second triple play the Twins handed Pérez this summer, this one coming with the bases loaded and three runs already in for the Braves to keep them from building on their 6-0 lead.
“It did buy us a little bit more time and some more pitches and some more innings,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Sanó hit a three-run homer in a four-run ninth for the Twins, who now have five 20-home run hitters to take into their critical four-game series against Cleveland this weekend. The Indians won the first game of their doubleheader on Wednesday to trim the lead in the AL Central race to 2½ games, entering the evening.
“They’re a really good team. I think we’re a better team,” center fielder Jake Cave said. “So we get to play them a lot, but this one in particular is big.”
Pérez (8-5) worked six innings to save the bullpen, but this latest dud means he might be headed there himself when Michael Pineda is ready to return from the injured list. Rookie Devin Smeltzer, who is scheduled to start on Friday night in Pineda’s place, pitched six shutout innings in his last turn. Pérez fell to 0-2 with a 6.67 ERA and 11 home runs allowed in his last five starts. He only surrendered seven homers in his first 18 appearances of the season.
The ugly third inning that was salvaged by the triple play featured two walks, a passed ball on catcher Mitch Garver and a dropped throw for an error on Cron. The weekly severe weather siren test fittingly occurred during that inning, perhaps a symbolic warning to the Twins to pick up their play before the Indians arrive.
“Bad day,” Pérez said. “I’ve just got to stay focused and stay strong.”
Twins: RHP Kohl Stewart, who relieved Pérez, rejoined the team before the game from Triple-A Rochester. Stewart was the third pitcher in the last week to ride the fresh arm express, with RHP Cody Stashak taking the return trip after a 44-pitch outing the previous night, and Stewart was promptly sent back after the game.
Twins: RHP Kyle Gibson (11-4, 4.02) will take the mound on Thursday to start the first of three remaining series against the Indians, who will turn to RHP Mike Clevinger (6-2, 3.07) for the opener.
CLEVELAND (AP) – For two months, they’ve chiseled, chipped and whittled away at Minnesota’s large lead.
The Indians are in position to erase it completely.
José Ramírez homered in both games, Cleveland’s bullpen combined on a four-hitter in the second game and the Indians swept a doubleheader Wednesday from the Texas Rangers to set up a four-game showdown series against the AL-Central leading Twins.
“It’s what we wanted,” said second baseman Jason Kipnis. “We wanted to play some fun games down the stretch.”
Ramírez hit a two-run homer in the opener as the Indians won 2-0, and he connected again in his first at-bat in the second game as Cleveland rolled to a 5-1 victory.
By going a baseball-best 38-16 since June 4, the Indians have slashed Minnesota’s 11 ½-game lead to two in a division still very much up for grabs. The teams will open their series on Thursday at Target Field, and Kipnis for one can’t wait to get it started.
“Today was a big day,” he said. “Everyone wanted to get these two. Everyone was kind of watching the scoreboard over in Minnesota, too, and we knew it had a chance to be a big day for us and it worked out perfectly for us. Guys are in a good mood, feeling good and excited to get to Minnesota.”
Ramírez, who has raised his average nearly 50 points since late June, connected in the second inning of the second game off Lance Lynn (14-7). Franmil Reyes hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh and Carlos Santana, Yasiel Puig and Kipnis drove in runs in the eighth as the Indians (68-46) went 22 games over .500 for the first time in 2019.
Indians manager Terry Francona turned to his relievers in the second game and the reliable group came through with Tyler Clippard pitching two perfect innings and A.J. Cole (3-1) – Cleveland’s third pitcher – getting the win by working 2 2/3 scoreless.
Nick Wittgren got the final five outs for his third save.
“They were tremendous,” Francona said. “Clippard set the tone and guys went multiple innings and they got lefties and righties out. ... There’s no wiggle room for anybody to really have a bad inning and nobody did. That was really impressive.”
The Rangers managed only two runs in three games at Progressive Field. Texas won the opener 1-0, but then didn’t score for 21 straight innings before Willie Calhoun homered leading off the eighth.
Making up for a sluggish start this season, Ramírez homered off Lynn, who entered 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three career starts against Cleveland.
But the right-hander made one mistake in the second, grooving a 95 mph fastball on his first pitch to Ramírez, who turned and deposited it into the lower seats in right field.
“I made one bad pitch to Ramirez,” Lynn said. “It didn’t go where I wanted to. He’s kind of been in that zone you’ve seen him in the last couple of years. When you make a mistake he puts a good swing on it.”
In the opener, Ramírez connected off Ariel Jurado (6-7), who had blanked the Indians on two singles before allowing the third baseman’s 15th homer.
Nick Goody (3-0) replaced rookie starter Zach Plesac in the seventh and pitched two scoreless innings. All-Star closer Brad Hand struck out the side in the ninth for his 28th save.
The Indians have 12 shutouts, tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the most in the majors.
Indians: Francona said the plan is for RHP Corey Kluber to throw “50-ish” pitches in his rehab start Thursday for Triple-A Columbus, a significant step for the two-time Cy Young winner in his recovery from a broken right arm. Francona added that Kluber, who was struck by a line drive on May 1, is cleared to throw his full array of pitches.
Indians: RHP Mike Clevinger (6-2, 3.07 ERA), who had his start pushed back by Tuesday’s rainout, starts the series opener against Twins RHP Kyle Gibson (11-4, 4.02). Clevinger is 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in his last three road starts.