The Cleveland Indians have finished at or near the bottom of the AL Central as the Minnesota Twins have won the last two division titles. When these Central rivals meet for the first time this season Friday night at Target Field, the Indians will be the club on top with the Twins trying to climb out of the cellar.
Cleveland tries to snap a five-game skid in this matchup as Minnesota goes for its fifth consecutive home win in the series.
After tying for last in the Central in 2009 - 21 1/2 games behind the Twins - the Indians went 69-93 last season and finished 25 back of Minnesota, which won 12 of 18 meetings between the clubs.
Cleveland (13-6), though, enters this contest with a one-game lead over second-place Kansas City. The Indians were two outs from building a three-game edge Thursday, but closer Chris Perez allowed two ninth-inning Royals runs, snapping a personal scoreless streak of 26 1-3 innings in a 3-2 loss.
Still, Cleveland is off to its best 19-game start since opening 14-5 in 1999.
The Indians continue their seven-game trip with Fausto Carmona (1-2, 4.74 ERA) on the mound. The right-hander, 1-1 with a 1.25 ERA in his last three starts, allowed five hits in seven innings and earned his first victory of the season Sunday in a 4-2 win over Baltimore.
"Yes, that's very great," Carmona told the Indians' official website. "I'll try to continue to pitch like that and keep going."
The Indians did not score a run while the sinkerballer was in the game in his first three outings. Carmona may need some support at Minnesota, where he's 0-2 with a 9.69 ERA in his last three starts.
The Twins (7-12) return home following a 3-5 trip that ended with Thursday's 3-1 win over Baltimore. Jim Thome hit a solo homer and drove in two runs, while Michael Cuddyer went deep for the second straight game.
Minnesota entered the game with a major league-low six homers, but manager Ron Gardenhire wouldn't be surprised if Thome's blast - his 591st - ignites his bat and a Twins offense that's scored an MLB-low 57 runs.
"That's one thing he can do is swing the bat," Gardenhire said.
The Indians don't need to be reminded. The 40-year-old slugger, who hit a franchise-record 334 homers for Cleveland from 1991-2002, batted .313 with five home runs and nine RBIs against the Indians last season.
Minnesota could use continued production from Thome and Cuddyer, with Joe Mauer (leg weakness) on the disabled list and Justin Morneau (flu) and Delmon Young (ribs) questionable for the series opener.
While the Twins' offense tries to get untracked, Brian Duensing (1-0, 3.60) hopes to shut down the Indians, who have an AL-best 99 runs.
In his last start, the left-hander helped the Twins snap their season-high four-game skid with seven strong innings in Sunday's 4-2 win at Tampa Bay.
"We've been struggling a little bit lately," Duensing said after the victory. "We got that win today and hopefully we'll start rolling."
Minnesota has won each of his three starts this season. Duensing is 2-0 with a 4.05 ERA in two starts against Cleveland.
The Indians have been outscored 26-8 during their losing streak in Minnesota.
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