Minnesota Twins: 3 Things to Watch for in the Cleveland Indians Series

Tom Schreier@tschreier3Correspondent IJuly 18, 2011

Minnesota Twins: 3 Things to Watch for in the Cleveland Indians Series

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    The Minnesota Twins enter their series against the Cleveland Indians trailing the Tribe by five games in the AL Central.

    "That’s the fortunate thing about playing your division, like we do so much, you never get down," said slugger Jim Thome, who hit career home run 596 on Sunday. "Our guys have been great: our young guys have stepped up, our veteran guys have stepped up—Cuddy and Mauer and Nathan.

    "We’ve had guys that have really—I think the thing with our club is that we’re getting somebody every other day coming up and being big, and that’s what you’ve got to have."

    In the upcoming home games against Cleveland and Detroit, Minnesota can make a push to get back into the pennant race.

    "We take it game by game now, and you’re chasing the .500 mark first, not so much the team," said manager Ron Gardenhire. "We’re working closer and closer to that, and then you try to catch the people ahead of you, but first you get back to .500, that’s always how it is in baseball.

    "We’ve been working really hard to do that. We’re making a good push here, but we have to continue against the teams in our division."

    The next series will be important for the Twins, who would greatly benefit from closing the gap in the AL Central early in the second half of the season.

    Here are three things they must do in order to catch the Indians.

    Tom Schreier is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the Minnesota Twins.

    You can follow him on Twitter @tscheier3.

Young Pitchers Need to Step Up in Scott Baker's Absence

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    Scott Baker becomes the latest pitcher to go on the DL.

    "He was really unsure if he was going to be able to go/start," said Gardenhire. "He thought he could pitch, but he didn’t know the ramifications after he pitched, how that would come into play, if he would be really sore and have to miss starts after it.

    "When a player tells me something like that, we’re not even going to stand a chance, so we went ahead and put him on the DL and we’ll back him up."

    This means Anthony Swarzak (25) and Scott Diamond (24) will pitch today.

    "This is an opportunity to pitch, and that’s always what I’m looking for," said Swarzak, who will get Game 1 of the double-header. "This is a big series coming up, and then we’ve got another big series after that, so we’ve just got to take it one at a time—these next eight games, nine games—and see where we’re at from there."

    Diamond, who was called up from Rochester, will make his first pitching appearance in The Show.

    "He’s throwing into a fire here, so we’ll see how he does," says Gardenhire. He’s a nice-looking young pitcher."

    Matt Tolbert was optioned to make room for Diamond.

    The Twins benefited from minimal bullpen use in the Royals series.

    It is up to the starting pitchers to replicate that effort against the Indians.

Joe Nathan's Use Is Going to Be a Factor

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    Joe Nathan pitched three straight games against the Royals, earning two saves.

    This means he may not be available right away in the first two games against Cleveland.

    "We’ll just check day-to-day with him," says Gardenhire. "He’s a gamer, wants to go."

    "We’re in that part of the schedule here now where you got a double-header. We’ll see what happens, and we’ll have to ad-lib a little bit."

    "I haven’t had a chance to talk to Andy," said Nathan, referring to pitching coach Rick Anderson, "but I’m sure it’s going to be how I’m feeling tomorrow.

    "Obviously, this is uncharted territory since the surgery, so I’m going to do what I can today to take care of it, but I know how important tomorrow is, not just with the team we’re playing, but having 18 innings to cover."

    Fortunately for the Twins, the bullpen is fresh, so they could pick up some slack if Nathan cannot go.

The Twins Need Power (and Thome Can Help)

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    Jim Thome hit a moon shot (approx. 490 feet) for his 596th home run.

    Not only is he moving closer to the 600-home-run milestone, but the 40-year-old slugger has a chance to help the Twins out against his former team, the Indians, by bringing a hot bat into the series.

    "It makes it fun because—I hope he doesn’t get mad—he’s one of the older guys," says pitcher Brian Duensing of Thome, who has battled through injury this season, but has found his production again.

    "He knows what he needs to do to get his body ready to go. You always see him working, stretching, doing something, and he’s always trying to be prepared for the next [at-bat]."

    "The one thing I’ve learned this year with baseball, every year is different," says Thome. "Every year is a different year, you’re always going to face where you gotta deal with different parts of the game—whether it’s success, whether it’s times of injury.

    "The thing is you don’t ever want your attitude to change."

    Nathan said Thome has been very blunt about what he can offer this year.

    "He knows what his game is all about," says Nathan. "He came to us and told us: ‘There’s going to be a lot of times we strike out. There’s going to be a lot of times I walk. And there’s going to be a lot of times that I’m going to barrel one up.’"

    The Twins will need whatever they can get from him in the upcoming series.