MINNEAPOLIS — A week and a half ago, the Minnesota Twins were 9½ games back in the AL Central race and reeling after an embarrassing three-game sweep in Toronto.
Things have sure changed dramatically in 11 days. With Cleveland and Detroit both slumping, the scrappy Twins are again within striking distance of a playoff berth.
“We smell blood right now,” Torii Hunter said after Minnesota’s 1-0 win against the Indians on Sunday. “We’re ready to go.”
Scott Baker allowed four hits in eight innings and Alexi Casilla hit a run-scoring double in the fourth to help the Twins gain some more ground on their AL Central rivals.
While the Indians maintained their half-game lead over second-place Detroit, the Twins closed within 4½ games of first place for the first time since May 10. Minnesota was 9½ games back as recently as July 25.
“It means we’re getting closer,” Michael Cuddyer said. “We’re not there yet, but at the same time we’re on the right path.”
The Twins have struggled mightily on offense as of late, having scored more than three runs only three times in their last 11 games and batting .230 in August. Facing Fausto Carmona on Sunday didn’t make it any easier, but Baker stifled the Indians’ lineup. Cleveland was shut out for the sixth time this season.
“We didn’t do anything offensively,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “When we had opportunities we just weren’t able to take advantage of them. … We’re a much better offensive ballclub than what we’ve been showing lately.”
Baker (6-4) struck out four and walked two, retiring 19 of his last 22 batters. He kept the Indians guessing at the plate by changing speeds and locations.
“These guys are pretty aggressive,” Baker said of the Indians’ lineup. “Anytime you can do that, it’s pretty effective.”
Cleveland’s final hit off Baker came when Trot Nixon’s fly ball dropped between shortstop Jason Bartlett and left fielder Jason Tyner to lead off the eighth. Baker then snared Jhonny Peralta’s bunt attempt out of the air as pinch-runner Jason Michaels headed for second and threw to first for a double play, drawing a standing ovation.
Peralta had two strikes on the pitch, and Wedge had taken down the bunt signal. But Peralta went for it anyway.
“He has a lot of confidence in his ability and he should, because he’s a good bunter,” Wedge said.
Jason Barfield ended the inning with a popout.
“I don’t know if it was how well he pitched or maybe our lack of focus or attention at the plate. But give him credit, he threw well for them,” Casey Blake said.
Joe Nathan finished the five-hitter for his 26th save in 28 chances, allowing a two-out single to Blake before retiring Victor Martinez on a groundout. Cleveland did not get a runner past second base.
Carmona (13-6), who lost his second straight start after winning five in a row, allowed five hits and five walks in seven innings and struck out five. He had been 2-0 against the Twins this year.
“Fausto was outstanding today,” Wedge said. “You can’t stay enough about his performance. We had every opportunity and we weren’t able to get it done.”
Cleveland dropped to 2-4 in 1-0 games this season.
Minnesota scored when Jason Kubel singled with two outs in the fourth, Brian Buscher walked and Casilla hit a ground-rule double to left.
The one run was enough with Baker on the mound.
“Unbelievable job. He went out there and got out of,” Cuddyer said before pausing. “He didn’t have any jams.”
Minnesota got a scare in the fifth when Hunter came crashing down on his left hand while diving for Ryan Garko’s ground-rule double. Manager Ron Gardenhire and a trainer ran to check on Hunter, but the six-time Gold Glove winner stayed in the game. “It’s fine now,” Hunter said. “Thirty minutes later I was ready to go.”
• Kenny Lofton was caught stealing second to end Cleveland’s sixth. Replays showed Lofton appeared to be safe, but second base umpire Dale Scott called him out.
• AL MVP Justin Morneau was 0-for-4 and is in an 0-for-14 slump.