|Indians look to cut into Twins' division lead|
The Cleveland Indians have won 21 of their last 29 contests to shave six games off their sizable deficit in the American League Central and keep the heat on the first-place Minnesota Twins.
The Indians vie to turn up the temperature even more on Friday when they carry a season-high six-game winning streak into the opener of their three-game series versus the visiting Twins.
Cleveland began its recent torrid stretch by taking two of three from Minnesota at Progressive Field on June 4-6.
All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor went 5-for-11 with three homers, four RBIs and five runs scored in that series.
Lindor carries a seven-game hitting streak into Friday's series opener versus expected starter Kyle Gibson, against whom he is 13-for-34 in his career.
"There's no hate," the 25-year-old Lindor said of the rivalry with the Twins. "We're a brotherhood, but at the end of the day, you like to beat your brother."
Gibson, who served in the opener's role versus Texas on Sunday, will receive his first look at Cleveland this season after posting a 3-9 mark with a 5.46 ERA and 1.63 WHIP in his 18 previous starts. The 31-year-old has struggled mightily against Jason Kipnis (14-for-33, 11 walks) and Jose Ramirez (10-for-30).
Although Gibson likely wishes to have recorded better numbers against the Indians in his career, he has no qualms with where the Twins sit entering the second half of the season.
"I think if you asked us April 1 if we had a 5 1/2-game lead in the division at the All-Star break, everyone would be pretty happy," Gibson said. "... So perspective is a big thing in trying not to hang on every loss, hang on every win and trying to remain consistent."
All-Star shortstop Jorge Polanco was quick to stress just the magnitude of his team's first series in the second half.
"This series is very important," Polanco said, per the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "We know how important it is to win the games against the Indians. As we go into those games, it will be the key to our hopes for the rest of the season."
Minnesota hasn't been shy about flexing its muscle, with its 166 homers serving as a majors-best for a team prior to the All-Star break.
Cleveland right-hander Mike Clevinger (2-2, 4.44 ERA) will have the responsibility of keeping the Twins in the park on Friday.
Clevinger recorded his third sterling start of the season in his last outing, scattering four hits and striking out nine without walking a batter in six innings during a 4-0 win at Kansas City on July 3.
The 28-year-old owns a 2-2 record with a 3.05 ERA in 10 appearances (seven starts) versus Minnesota. He has flustered Miguel Sano (3-for-14, seven strikeouts) and Max Kepler (2-for-17).
Byron Buxton, who is just 1-for-7 with two strikeouts against Clevinger, has four hits, four RBIs and two runs scored in his last three games. That spurt, however, followed a dismal 1-for-21 stretch.
Buxton went 4-for-10 with three doubles and two RBIs as Minnesota won two of three against Cleveland from March 28-31. He went 1-for-7 in the more recent series last month, although the one hit was a three-run homer in Minnesota's 9-7 loss on June 5.
--Field Level Media