Twins hosts Tigers in key weekend series in AL Central
MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Minnesota Twins didn't take care of the Cleveland Indians during their three-game tilt at the Metrodome, the upcoming weekend series against the Detroit Tigers would have meant very little.
Now, fresh off the heels of a 7-3 win on Wednesday and a series sweep, the Twins are right where they want to be.
"That's what we were asking for, and that's what we knew we had to do here," Minnesota skipper Ron Gardenhire said. "Fortunately for us, we got some big hits and we got some pitching and won this series."
The big hits on Wednesday came from a number of Twins players, but first baseman Michael Cuddyer led the way with three hits and three RBIs, including a solo homer in the fifth. The pitching came in the form of Nick Blackburn, who allowed just two runs in 6 1/3 innings of work, earning just his second win since the All-Star break.
The sweep came against a Cleveland team that has given Minnesota trouble this season, as the Twins were just 7-8 against the Indians heading into the series. While the Tribe has long been out of the American League Central race, Cuddyer and the Twins have battled with them all season.
"Those teams are dangerous," Cuddyer said. "You've got guys that are trying to make impressions for next year, playing hard. ... We were able to take care of business this week."
Wednesday's win gives Minnesota a four-game winning streak heading into Thursday's off-day, as the Twins prepare to welcome the Tigers for a three-game set on Friday.
"Today, this one is huge," said catcher Joe Mauer, who went 2-for-3 to raise his average to a Major League-leading .374. "Every game is huge right now. We have a lot of games with guys we're chasing, so that's a good thing."
Mauer scored the game's first run in the third inning, when Cuddyer singled to left off Indians starter Aaron Laffey. The Twins put together a three-run fourth against Laffey and the Tribe to build a 4-0 cushion for Blackburn.
With one out, catcher Jose Morales hit a double -- one of his two doubles on the afternoon -- and came around to score on a first-pitch single up the middle by Denard Span. Following a walk to Orlando Cabrera that loaded the bases, Mauer also singled on the first pitch from Laffey, driving in Nick Punto and Span to break open the scoring.
The left-handed Laffey had given the Twins fits this season, posting a 3-0 record against Minnesota prior to Wednesday.
"We're pretty familiar. We know what he has, and he knows what we can do," Span said. "A pitcher like that, sometimes you've got to come out there and do what you normally don't do. We normally see a couple pitches, but sometimes you've got to switch up your game plan and be aggressive."
Cuddyer drove in the second of his three runs with a solo homer in the fifth off Laffey that reached the seats in left field. Cuddyer's 26th blast of the season put Minnesota on top, 5-0.
Cuddyer has filled in admirably for All-Star first baseman Justin Morneau, who is out the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his lower back. In his past four games -- all at first base -- Cuddyer has collected eight hits and driven in eight runs.
"When you're in a pennant race, you can't afford to slack off," Cuddyer said. "When you lose one of your stars, everyone's got to elevate."
"A lot of hits and power in that first-base position," Mauer said. "Cuddy has been doing a great job. ... Guys have been picking each other up, and that's what you need to do if you want to get further in the postseason."
As big as the win was for the Twins heading into the weekend, it was equally important for Blackburn, who had posted a 1-7 record since the All-Star break before winning on Wednesday.
"I've been so inconsistent this second half," said Blackburn, who exited the game in the seventh. "I'm trying to just stay even-keeled right now. Hopefully, I can take this approach that we had today into the next game and have the same results."
"Blackie threw the ball well," Gardenhire said. "It looked like he got a little tired there late, but he threw the ball very good for us. He gave us a great opportunity."
The Twins will now play the waiting game until Friday, as the Tigers must first finish their series with the Royals before heading to the Metrodome. Regardless of what Detroit does, though, Minnesota likes the position it's in after the sweep.
"Now, it depends on what they do the next two nights as to how far [back] we are," Gardenhire said, "but at least we're in range, and that's where we wanted to be -- within range."