Indians win fifth straight since break as pitching fails Twins again

MINNEAPOLIS -- All that's likely left for the Cleveland Indians this season is playing the spoiler in the AL Central. They can't be forgotten, though, as two of the division front-runners have been reminded.

Trevor Crowe drove in two runs and had a career-best four of Cleveland's season-high 20 hits, and the Indians further exposed Minnesota's pitching problems in a 10-4 win over the Twins on Monday night.

Cleveland is 5-0 to start the second half for the first time in team history.

"You do the right thing, and you're going to end up winning ballgames," manager Manny Acta said. "What's impressive is the two teams that we're playing."

Scott Baker (7-9) surrendered 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings for the Twins, increasing their concern about the rotation. After winning three out of four games from the first-place Chicago White Sox to cut the lead to 1 1/2 games over the weekend, the Twins lost to Aaron Laffey (2-3) and an Indians team that began the day 12 1/2 games back in the AL Central despite a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers out of the break.

Crowe and Jason Donald, two of the youngsters thrust into action in this rebuilding, injury-marred season for Cleveland, each drove in two runs.

"It feels good to win five in a row, especially against two teams in the division," Crowe said. "But these guys are a good team. They're going to come back ready to play."

Though their relievers never had a lead, the Twins bullpen was pretty bad, too. The 20 hits allowed was a season high, punctuated by the five-run seven-hit fifth inning against Baker and a pair of relievers.

The Twins started a stretch of 13 straight games against losing teams, but pitching like this won't beat anyone in the majors. They all left balls up and over the plate.

"Four hours worth of not too good stuff," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Jensen Lewis gave up Jim Thome's towering home run, his 11th in 159 at-bats this season, and Orlando Hudson's RBI double in the sixth -- the first runs allowed by the Cleveland bullpen since the break after 13 1/3 scoreless innings.

That was the only hiccup for the Indians, however.

Baker took the mound for the first time in 11 days because of elbow tendinitis, but that wasn't to blame.

"I'm thinking about it, but in no way shape or form is there anything keeping me from making my pitches," he said.

As for the struggles by his fellow starters?

"You become close with these guys, and you kind of feel like you're out there sometimes with them," Baker said. "But we'll get it together."

The fifth inning started ominously with a twisting fly ball to the wall in left field that Delmon Young dropped, ruled a double for Carlos Santana.

"That's a play he can make," Gardenhire said.

Baker's ERA since June is well over 6, and Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey share the same dubious distinction. With Brian Duensing ready to move from the bullpen to the rotation, a change or two could be coming.

Laffey, who has walked 28 batters in 50 2/3 innings this season, had his own problems finding the plate and failed to finish six innings for the fourth time in five starts. Still, with third and fourth hitters Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer going a combined 0 for 7 with runners on base for the game, the Twins couldn't find a spark a day after their four-run rally beat the White Sox in the ninth inning.

The only run against Laffey was unearned, when Jason Kubel slid home on a passed ball in the fourth. The inning started in strange, stifling fashion for the Twins, when Kubel tagged up at second base with none out. Young's drive nearly cleared the left-field wall, hitting the padding, bouncing up and back to Crowe. There was no catch, only a long single for Young after a replay review by the umpires confirmed the hit was not a homer.

Laffey said he's fighting arm fatigue.

"Sometimes it just feels like I'm throwing a pitch with a parachute attached to it," he said. "Sometimes that's good because it throws guys timing off, but when I try to ramp it up it's just not there right now."

Game notes
With changes possible for the pitching staff, the Twins could make a series of roster moves this week. INF Alexi Casilla is due back from his rehab assignment, and Gardenhire hinted he could be activated in time for the game Wednesday afternoon. ... Shelley Duncan replaced Austin Kearns in RF in the fourth inning for the Indians. Kearns had a sore right knee.