CLEVELAND — Max Kepler owns Trevor Bauer at the moment. And unless something changes, the AL Central will soon belong to the Twins.
Kepler hit two more home runs off Bauer, Jake Cave drove in three runs and Minnesota tightened its grip on the division with a 6-2 win Saturday night over the Cleveland Indians, who have slipped two games further back this weekend.
Kepler homered leading off the game and again in the second inning off Bauer (8-7), giving the Twins outfielder five homers in five consecutive at-bats in two games — both in Cleveland — against the right-hander.
With three homers off Bauer on June 6, Kepler is the first player in history to hit five straight homers off the same pitcher in a single season.
“It’s unfathomable that it’s happening right in front of our eyes,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Nobody has seen anything like it.”
Cave homered in the second and added a two-run double in the eighth to give the Twins a 5-2 lead.
Jake Odorizzi (11-4) didn’t get to pitch in Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Progressive Field because of a blister on his middle finger. But the right-hander came off the injured list and held the Indians to one run in 5 1/3 innings.
By winning the first two games of the series, the Twins have moved 7½ games ahead of the Indians, who knocked six off Minnesota’s lead in the weeks leading into the break.
“There has been a lot of questions about this particular series, but I don’t think our guys have approached it any differently,” Baldelli said. “They’ve gone out there and produced and gotten it done in big moments. It’s been impressive to watch.”
José Ramírez and rookie Bobby Bradley homered for Cleveland, which will turn to All-Star MVP Shane Bieber to avoid being swept Sunday.
The Twins and Indians will meet 11 more times this season, but these three games could determine whether Cleveland buys or sells before the July 31 trading deadline.
Kepler, who has 11 career homers in Cleveland, connected on Bauer’s third pitch, driving it over the right-field wall for his 22nd homer.
Kepler’s second homer made it 3-0, and came one batter after Cave hit his second, an opposite-field shot to left that dropped Bauer’s head and elicited a collective groan from Cleveland’s big crowd.
Bauer finally bested Kepler in the fourth, striking him out swinging but only after the slugger hit a foul ball into the upper deck down the right-field line.
According to Elias, Kepler matched the longest streak in the expansion era for homers in consecutive at-bats against one pitcher. Carlos Delgado did it against Jorge Sosa (2003-04) and Frank Howard connected against Bob Hendley (1963-64).
Kepler didn’t make much of his achievement.
“Every pitcher is the same,” Kepler said. “I have the same approach. I just try to simplify it when I go up there.”
Bauer can’t understand Kepler’s success against him.
“I don’t know,” he said. “How do you explain it? It’s just one of those baseball things ... he’s just locked in against me — for whatever reason. It won’t be that way forever. He’ll cool down and he’ll go through a 0 for 10 with seven punch-outs or whatever and miss pitches. It’s just one of those things right now.”
Bauer shook off the early adventure and kept the Indians close, striking out 11 in six innings.
Bradley, brought up late last month from Triple-A Columbus to give the Indians’ some needed power, connected for his first career homer in the seventh, a 457-foot smash to right off Tyler Duffey to pull the Indians within 3-2.
“That was amazing, a dream come true,” Bradley said.
Twins center fielder Byron Buxton got banged up while making a head-first, diving catch on Oscar Mercado’s sinking liner in the eighth.
Baldelli didn’t know if Buxton had sustained a concussion.
The Twins moved to 30-18 in road games, surpassing their win total (29) away from home in 2018.
Twins: OF Eddie Rosario is nearing a return after being sidelined since June 27 with a sprained left ankle. He’s worked out the past few days and the team will test his in-game speed conditions before he’s activated.
Indians: OF Tyler Naquin (back) didn’t play for the second straight day. He strained his back while getting out of a car Thursday night.
Twins: José Berríos (8-5, 3.00 ERA) pitched a scoreless inning of relief for the AL in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. He’s 0-3 since June 6 despite a 2.65 ERA.
Indians: Bieber (8-3, 3.45 ERA) is 2-0 with a 4.05 ERA in four career starts against Minnesota. The right-hander was a late injury replacement to the AL All-Star roster and then struck out the side in his one inning with Indians fans chanting “Let’s go, Bieber.”