(Sports Network) - The Cleveland Indians are beginning to atone for a miserable first half of the season with a terrific start to their second.
The rejuvenated Indians take aim at a sixth consecutive victory following the All-Star break when they resume a three-game series with the American League Central contending Minnesota Twins this evening at Target Field.
Cleveland found itself buried in last place in the AL Central with a brutal 34-54 record at the break, but have been on fire since returning from the hiatus. The Indians began their streak with a surprising four-game home sweep of playoff-hopeful Detroit, then kept rolling with a 10-4 battering of the Twins in last night's opener of this set.
The Indians pounded out a season-best 20 hits in Monday's triumph, with Trevor Crowe going 4-for-5 with two RBI to lead the outburst. Jayson Nix finished with three hits and also knocked in two runs for the Tribe, with Jason Donald contributing two hits and a pair of RBI to the winning effort.
Cleveland has scored 31 runs and batted .311 as a team over the course of its five-game surge.
"They're hot right now," said Twins outfielder Delmon Young after yesterday's game. "You don't want to play a team that's hot right now. Everything is going to go their way."
The Indians also received effective pitching from Aaron Laffey in the opener, as the left-hander yielded just one unearned run despite walking four batters over the first five innings.
"Obviously you're going to be frustrated about the walks, but I was able to minimize the damage and get out of a big jam in the fourth," Laffey said. "I made big pitches when I needed to and get the outs when they were the most important."
Minnesota went 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position and fell to 2 1/2 games behind current AL Central leader Chicago with Monday's defeat. The Twins entered this series off three straight wins over the White Sox.
Twins starter Scott Baker (7-9) was hit hard in his first outing of the second half, surrendering six runs and 10 hits before exiting after 4 2/3 innings. Former Indians star Jim Thome had a solo homer for Minnesota, while Orlando Hudson ended 2-for-4 with an RBI double in the setback.
Young collected three hits, including a run-scoring single, and is hitting .440 (11-for-25) with six RBI over his last six contests. The effort has raised the former No. 1 overall draft pick's season average to .313.
The Twins will try to bounce back tonight behind the struggling Kevin Slowey, who's notched just one win since June 13 and has allowed five runs or more in five of his past six starts. The right-hander has posted a poor 9.11 earned run average over that bad stretch.
Slowey wasn't sharp once again in Thursday's encounter with the White Sox, permitting five runs and nine hits in only three innings of work. He wound up being bailed out by his offense, though, and finished with a no-decision in an eventual 8-7 Minnesota loss.
The 26-year-old does have a track record of success against the Indians, however. Slowey has won both of his previous meetings with Cleveland this season, including an April 20 verdict at Target Field in which he fired eight innings of one-run ball, and has come out on top in each of his last four starts in this series. In eight lifetime appearances against the Tribe, he's 5-2 with a 3.73 ERA.
Justin Masterson gets the call for Cleveland tonight in a delayed second-half debut. The tall right-hander was initially slated to pitch Sunday against the Tigers, but was pushed back a couple of days with a sore ankle.
Like his team, Masterson has endured a rough 2010 campaign. He went 3-8 with a 5.31 ERA in 18 starts prior to the All-Star break and has especially had problems on the road, where the 25-year-old has produced a 1-5 record with a subpar 6.75 ERA in 10 mound trips. One of those defeats came against Slowey at Target Field, where Masterson was reached for five runs (two earned) and walked five batters in four innings back on April 20.
Masterson, who's 0-3 with a 5.01 ERA through four starts and one relief appearance versus Minnesota, last pitched on July 11 and allowed five runs (four earned) in a five-inning no-decision at Tampa Bay.
These divisional foes have split four meetings at Target Field so far in 2010, with the Twins having won four of the seven overall games played between the clubs this season.