MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians arrived at Target Field this weekend with a chance to begin seizing control of the American League Central. Cleveland took a major step in that direction with a four-game sweep, culminating in a 5-2 win on Sunday that was powered by a pair of home runs from slugger Edwin Encarnacion.
Encarnacion's display, which gave him 16 long balls on the season, backed a strong start by right-hander Trevor Bauer, and marked the third time in as many games that a Cleveland batter cleared the fence twice. With the win, the first-place Indians also moved two games ahead of Minnesota, marking the Tribe's largest division lead of the year.
"We told him last night he could take the day off today. I'm glad he didn't," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Encarnacion. "He's a very special hitter. And now we're seeing it. For the first whatever, six weeks, it was a fight for him. Right now he's getting locked in and is dangerous."
After Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall each went deep twice during Saturday's twin bill, Encarnacion recorded the 27th multi-homer game of his career in the finale. Both shots were off Minnesota right-hander Kyle Gibson, who was handed the loss after allowing eight hits across six innings.
Encarnacion ended the afternoon with five RBIs, including one on a single in the seventh and one on a sacrifice fly in the ninth.
"Today could've been a really frustrating day," Francona said. "We got the line moving, which we like, but man, we weren't doing much with runners in scoring position. And then Eddie just kind of had one of those days. Thank goodness he showed up."
Bauer, meanwhile, did his part to maintain the team's advantage atop the division standings. Bauer, who was lifted after a leadoff walk in the eighth, gave up a pair of runs off four hits and struck out eight. At one point, he sat down 14 consecutive batters before plunking Kennys Vargas with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Eduardo Escobar then cashed in with an RBI double, and Eddie Rosario followed with an RBI single.
"Collectively, it's a frustrating series," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. "You let four games go to your chief competitor, and somehow you have to get past it and learn from it. I don't know if you want to use it as a measuring stick, but hopefully these guys learn what it takes to go out there, and hopefully we're better for it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Miles per Zimmer: The Twins appeared poised to score first in the bottom of the second, as Eddie Rosario smacked a one-out single into center and Max Kepler attempted to score from second base. However, Kepler was thrown out on a perfect nab by Cleveland center fielder Bradley Zimmer to keep the game scoreless. According to Statcast™, Zimmer's two-hopper to the plate was the hardest-thrown outfield assist (101.5 mph) in the Majors this season. It needed to be, as Kepler's second-to-home time of 6.74 seconds was his second-fastest this season.
"It's huge. That was a run saved," Zimmer said. "Little things like that are huge. And then the next couple innings, we rally. Eddie hits a couple homers and we're back on top. Another really good team win. I think everyone did a little something. I'm glad I could make that throw."
Allen enters early:Robbie Grossman worked a leadoff walk in the eighth to ultimately chase Bauer from the contest. The Tribe elected to bring in closer Cody Allen, who worked around a walk of his own to get out of the frame unscathed. Following a two-out walk to Joe Mauer, Miguel Sano came to the plate representing the go-ahead run. He immediately swung at the first pitch and flew out softly to right. Allen has made 27 appearances for the Tribe, with only six of them taking place before the final inning.
"I think [Sano] is a guy that wants to be a difference-maker," Molitor said. "Sometimes you try to be the guy that gets that big hit. I actually think he was sitting on a breaking ball from Allen, he just missed it."
Indians relief ace Andrew Miller then worked the ninth for his first save of the season.
"I thought today was far and away his best outing. Everything. The intent to attack the strike zone. His stuff was good. He worked ahead. He filled up the strike zone with a bunch of quality pitches. We were thrilled with the way he was throwing the ball."--Francona, on Bauer
"We just want to get back to playing how we know we're capable of playing. We haven't done that consistently this year, and we're working through a lot of things as a team, figuring out what it's going to take for us to get back to that. The standings are what they are. The only way they change is by going out there and winning games. To do that, we've got to play how we know we can play." --Bauer, on sweeping the Twins
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Zimmer's 101.5-mph throw in the second inning topped Bryce Harper's 99.7-mph throw on May 9 as the Majors' hardest-thrown assist this year. Then Zimmer bumped Harper to third place in the seventh with a 99.9-mph throw to start an 8-3-4-6 relay to nab Rosario in a rundown. Zimmer's two assists gave him four on the season.
With Ramirez (two homers in Game 1 on Saturday), Chisenhall (2 homers in Game 2 on Saturday) and Encarnacion (2 homers on Sunday) each having multi-homer games this weekend, it marked the first time since July 17-20, 2000, that the Indians had a player post multi-homer showings in at least three straight games. Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez achieved the feat over four games 17 years ago, per the Elias Sports Bureau.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Twins challenged the call for the final out in the game. Rosario chopped a roller to first base and slid head-first in an attempt to beat reliever Andrew Miller to the bag. Rosario was originally ruled out, which stood after a replay review that lasted one minute, 53 seconds.
WHAT'S NEXT Indians: Ace Corey Kluber 5-2, 4.15 ERA) is slated to take the mound for the Tribe in the opener of a four-game set against the Orioles at 7:05 p.m. ET on Monday at Camden Yards. Since returning from a back injury, Kluber has gone 2-0 with a 2.37 ERA, 28 strikeouts and four walks in three starts (19 innings).
Twins: After an off-day on Monday, the Twins will conclude their homestand with a three-game set against the White Sox, starting at 7:10 p.m. CT. Right-hander Ervin Santana (8-4, 2.56 ERA) is coming off his shortest start of the season, in which he allowed five runs across five frames in a loss to the Mariners.