CLEVELAND – The Twins changed from an exuberant first-place team to a demoralized second-place team in a matter of one weekend.
A four-game sweep to the defending American League champions has that kind of impact.
The Indians gained a two-game lead atop the AL Central after a 5-2 win over Minnesota on Sunday afternoon at Target Field.
Edwin Encarnacion knocked in five runs while Jose Ramirez extended his hitting streak to six games, a hot stretch in which he is hitting .571 (16-for-28) with three home runs, eight doubles and seven RBIs.
Trevor Bauer picked up his sixth victory on seven innings of two-run ball.
Encarnacion reaches new heights
A 457-foot shot to the second deck gave Encarnacion his 15th home run of the season and the Tribe a 1-0 advantage off Kyle Gibson.
“He’s a very special hitter,” said manager Terry Francona to reporters. “Now we’re seeing it. For the first six weeks, it was a fight for him. Right now he’s getting locked in and he’s dangerous.”
Encarnacion maintained the power-hitting approach in his next at-bat, blasting a ball 164 feet in the air for a two-run shot to score Ramirez (walk).
“We weren’t doing much with runners in scoring position and then [Encarnacion] just had one of those days where, ‘Thank goodness he showed up,'” Francona said. “We had told him last night he could take the day off today. I’m glad he didn’t.”
The right-handed slugger capped off the day with an RBI single and sacrifice fly and Ramirez chipped in three total hits, adding to his 11 base knocks throughout the weekend set.
Bauer sets down 15 straight in winning effort
The increased use of the curveball paid dividends as the California native elevated his fastball to change the eye level on his opposition…
“The first couple pitches I threw, I saw it was 94-95 (mph) and I knew I had more in the tank,” said Bauer. “When I saw that, I was like, ‘Okay, it’s going to be a good day.’ Pretty much everything worked.”
After Bradley Zimmer gunned down Max Kepler for his second big league assist, Bauer set down 15 consecutive batters in a spectacle of domination.
“It’s huge,” Bauer said of Zimmer’s 101.5-mph throw from center field. “Playing defense like that and throwing guys out (is important).”
The lone damage came in the seventh when Bauer hit Kennys Vargas on a 97-mph fastball with two outs. Eduardo Escobar recorded an RBI double and eventually scored on Eddie Rosario’s single to cut the Cleveland lead to 4-2.
“I thought today was far and away his best outing,” said Francona. “Everything, the intent to attack the strike zone. His stuff was good. He worked ahead. He just filled up the strike zone with a bunch of quality pitches. We were thrilled with the way he was throwing the ball.”
Aside from the late damage, Bauer earned the win behind a final line of 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R/ER, 2 BB, 8 K (105 pitches, 72 strikes, 68.6%, five groundouts, three flyouts).
“Keeping runners off the board is huge for me and for team confidence as well,” Bauer said. “We know we’re capable of playing like this. This is the intensity we need to bring on a day in, day out basis. Everyone was up for these games.”
Cody Allen and Andrew Miller fired two hitless innings to conclude the contest.
Central Division update
The Blue Jays defeated the White Sox (31-37) and the Rays dominated the Tigers (32-36).
Cleveland and Baltimore open a four-game series on Monday at 7:05 p.m. ET from Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
RHP Corey Kluber (5-2, 4.15) has not allowed more than three runs in his three starts after returning from the 10-day disabled list with a lower back strain. Current Orioles hitters are slashing .242/.284/.347 (23-for-95) with four doubles and two home runs against Kluber.
RHP Dylan Bundy (7-5, 3.29) will look to bounce back from allowing five runs (four earned) on six hits in five innings last Wednesday against the White Sox. The 24-year-old right-hander was the fourth overall pick out of high school in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.