The introduction wasn’t necessary — the Indians certainly could have done without it — but good manners are always appreciated.
Especially by the Twins. They watched Kepler homer not once, but twice against Bauer in a 6-2 win over the Indians at Progressive Field.
Minnesota (58-33) for the second straight night showed the Indians just how much distance there is between first and second place in the AL Central.
The Indians (50-40) came out of the break on a six-game winning streak. They trailed the Twins by 5.5 games and were hoping to do big things against them in this three-game series. But they blew a 3-1 lead Friday night with some poor defense and Bauer put them behind the eight ball two pitches into Saturday’s game when Kepler hit his first homer.
The loss dropped them to 7.5 games behind the Twins and out of the second wild spot. They trail Tampa Bay by 1.5 games and Oakland by a half-game in the wild card picture.
Kepler has done serious damage to Bauer’s pitching line this season. It started on June 6 at Progressive Field, when he hit three homers in as many at-bats. After Kepler homered in the first and third inning, Bauer walked him in the fifth, presumably to end the monotony of watching the ball sail over the fence.
But Kepler found his grove again with a homer in the seventh in a 5-4 win.
Saturday night, Kepler resumed the onslaught. The left-handed hitting Kepler, leading off, hit a 2-0 94 mph fastball into the right field seats for a 1-0 lead. Bauer faced six more batters that inning, but escaped a bases-loaded jam to keep the score at 1-0.
That changed quickly in the second.
Jake Cave opened the inning with a leadoff homer for a 2-0 lead. Bryon Buxton went down on a fly ball to center to bring Kepler to the plate. This time Kepler hit a 0-1 knuckle curveball into the right-field seats for a 3-0 lead.
It was a disconcerting start for Bauer (8-7, 3.65). On one hand he struck out 11 batters and didn’t allow a run over his last four innings. On the other, he couldn’t keep the ball in the park and his teammates couldn’t rally against Jake Odorizzi (11-4, 3.06) and the Twins’ bullpen.
“Going back multiple years, coming out of the break has been hard for him,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Bauer. “He’s such a creature of habit with routine and everything. After first couple innings, to his credit, he competed and gave us a chance to win the game.”
The Twins finished with three homers to increase their MLB lead in that category to 171. They finished last season with 166.
Odorizzi, just off the injured list because of a blister on his right middle finger, held the Indians to one run on three hits in 5 1/3 innings. Jose Ramirez supplied the run with a homer, his eighth of the season, with one out in the second.
Bauer is 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA in three starts against the Twins this season. He’s 6-9 with a 4.36 ERA in his career against them.
Bobby Bradley made it a one-run game with a 457-foot homer in the seventh. He hit a 3-2 pitch from Taylor Duffey for his first big-league homer. Bradley hit 24 homers at Class AAA Columbus this year.
“I think it’s natural for young guys to press a little bit to get the first one,” Francona said of Bradley. “I get it, but Bobby is strong enough he doesn’t have to swing for home runs. He’ll hit some by accident. If he just barrels up some balls, he’ll be fine.”
The Indians never got any closer than 3-2. Tyler Clippard, who gave up a homer in the eighth inning Friday, allowed a two-run double by Cave in the eighth as the Twins stretched their lead to 5-2.
This was never a make or break series for the Indians. They still have a lot of season left — unless, of course, the front office goes into sell mode, but the thing they didn’t want to do was get swept. That’s exactly where they’ve put themselves for Sunday afternoon’s game.
The Tribe’s defense had another late lapse on Saturday. Ramirez couldn’t handle a shot down the line by Nelson Cruz that went for an error in the eighth. The Twins turned it into an add-on run on a sacrifice fly by Marwin Gonzalez.
Minnesota’s dual closers humbled the Indians in the first two games. Lefty Taylor Rogers closed Friday’s 5-3 win with two scoreless innings for the save. Blake Parker got the final out of the seventh inning Saturday and retired the Tribe in order in the eighth. Rogers then turned out the lights with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The Indians and Twins conclude this three-game series on Sunday with RHP Shane Bieber (8-3, 3.45) facing Jose Berrios (8-5 3.00) at 1:10 p.m. SportTime Ohio and WLKR 95.3 FM will carry the game.
Bieber made his big league debut against the Twins last year. Berrios made his big-league debut against the Tribe in 2016. Bieber, named MVP of the All-Star Game on Tuesday, is coming off an eight-inning win over the Reds.
Berrios hasn’t won a game since he beat the Tribe on June 6. He’s 0-3 with a 2.65 ERA in his last five starts.