MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins will play their biggest series of the season starting Friday, Sept. 13, in Cleveland: three games against the Indians with only four games separating Minnesota from its closest challenger for the American League Central Division title.
Asked whether his team might field a lineup back to regular strength, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, “I think it’s possible.”
That would require good news en masse.
For Thursday night’s series finale against the Washington Nationals, the Twins were without regulars Max Kepler (shoulder), Miguel Sano (back), Marwin Gonzalez (oblique) and Jorge Polanco, who, Baldelli explained, had a dental procedure during the day but was getting the day off, anyway.
“I could see him going out there and playing a bunch of games in a row after this,” Baldelli said of Polanco, who leads the team with 138 games played and 578 plate appearances. “But if we’re going to pick a day, today was going to be the day.”
The Twins officially lost the services of center fielder Byron Buxton when he had season-ending shoulder surgery on Tuesday, and on Saturday lost starter Michael Pineda to a 60-game drug suspension.
The Twins can use all the help they can get in Cleveland. The Indians had an off day Thursday after sweeping the Angels in Anaheim and taking two of three from the Twins last weekend at Target Field. The Indians have won five of the past seven meetings with the Twins.
All-stars Jake Odorizzi and Jose Berrios will start for the Twins on Friday and Sunday, respectively, but it’s unclear who will take Pineda’s spot on Saturday. Asked if it could be an opener situation, Baldelli said, “Possibly.”
Kepler, who has 92 RBIs and a team-high 36 homers, said Thursday that he has been swinging regularly since being pulled after one at-bat on Sunday “but not exactly at high rates of speed.” He also has been running and shagging flies.
“I believe I’ll be back real soon,” he said.
He and Sano were scheduled to swing in the cage on Thursday.
“Sano could potentially be available off the bench, Marwin probably not,” Baldelli said. “But going into it any more than that, we probably prefer not to do.”
Gonzalez has been out since being injured during at at-bat on Aug. 27. Jake Cave, a valuable addition in the outfield late this season, said Thursday he is close to returning from a groin strain suffered while leaving the batter’s box after a single on Sept. 6.
Before Thursday’s game, Baldelli said he thought all the banged-up players would travel to Cleveland.
“We have been playing this day-to-day for a while now, and that’s what we are going to continue to do,” he said. “We’re getting closer and closer. Internally, we know that. We don’t always go into specifics of what that means for each guy, but our guys are feeling better. Each day, they are doing more and more.
“I’m not sure when we are going to have the entire group back out there playing at the same time. Hopefully, it’s a matter of days.”