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CLE@MIN: Duncan drills an RBI single to left field

MINNEAPOLIS -- This is not what the Indians had in mind. When the ballclub arrived in Minnesota, it viewed this weekend as a chance to jump-start its season and push back into the thick of things in the American League Central race.

A sweep would have been ideal and a sweep is just what the Indians got -- though in the opposite direction. On Sunday afternoon, the Tribe dropped a 5-1 decision to the Twins, who issued a three-game brooming at Target Field.

"We came here with high hopes," Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez said. "We coudn't do anything here."

The Indians were outscored, 28-6, in the three-game series, during which the team's starting pitchers combined for all three losses and an 11.81 ERA. Along the way, the Twins pulled themselves out of the AL Central cellar and into fourth place, using strong pitching, timely hitting and a slew of stolen bases to leave the Indians in a daze.

"We were not even a challenge to the Twins in this series," manager Manny Acta said.

Cleveland now has an off-day on Monday to contemplate its immediate future.

The next time the Indians take the field, Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline will have come and gone. The last three losses in Minnesota have knocked the Tribe more than five games behind the division-leading White Sox for the first time this season, leaving Cleveland's front office with a tough decision.

With two months remaining on the schedule, the Indians could try to pull off a blockbuster trade or two with the hope of breathing some life into a laboring rotation and middling offense. Cleveland took that approach last July, when they pulled off a five-player swap with Colorado that brought Jimenez to the Indians.

The alternatives -- looking more likely with each defeat -- are to either stand pat or sell off a piece or two. Cleveland's top assets for potentially acquiring Major League-ready prospects appear to be right fielder Shin-Soo Choo and closer Chris Perez. Choo is expected to test free agency after next season and Perez (a two-time All-Star) is set to receive a hefty raise through arbitration this winter.

The Rangers and Pirates have been linked to Choo in multiple reports, and starter Justin Masterson has reportedly been drawing interest from teams as well. Jose Lopez was also named in a CBSSports.com report as being a potential target for the Yankees' temporary need at third base.

A few days ago, selling off players seemed an unlikely scenario after Cleveland took two out of three in a crucial series against the Tigers, cutting its deficit in the Central standings to just 3 1/2 games. Things have changed in a hurry, and the Tribe has been knocked on its heels.

"I'd be lying to you if I told you it doesn't deflate you a little bit," Indians outfielder Shelley Duncan said. "This time of year you start to scoreboard watch a little bit. After the game, you check to see how other teams did. It does knock you around a little bit. But, it's also one of those things that, if you don't worry about it, and you just play baseball with the focus on yourself and your own team, and not worry about what the White Sox or Tigers do, then you pull off a good little run.

"You don't know what can happen. You see it all the time. Usually, the teams that do have those really good stretches in August or September aren't worrying about what the other teams are doing. That's something that we need to put our focus on, on ourselves more than anything."

Jimenez, who struck out six and walked three, took the loss in Sunday's tilt against the Twins after being charged with five runs on six hits over 6 1/3 innings. The right-hander allowed two runs on a home run off the bat of Justin Morneau in the fourth inning and later ran into some self-induced trouble in the fifth.

After giving up a double to Ben Revere, Jimenez balked, allowing the Twins outfielder to advance to third base. Jimenez then bounced a pitch in the dirt for a costly wild pitch that cleared the way for Revere to sprint home, giving Minnesota a 3-1 advantage.

"Everything that could go wrong, went wrong," Acta said.

In the seventh, lefty Tony Sipp took over for Jimenez with runners on first and second base and one out. Brian Dozier and Denard Span promptly pulled off a double steal -- giving the Twins five swipes on the afternoon -- and then they both scored on a base hit from Revere.

Complicating things was Cleveland's inability to get anything going against Twins lefty Brian Duensing, who started in place of Francisco Liriano. On Saturday night, following Minnesota's 12-5 romp over the Indians, the Twins traded Liriano to the White Sox in exchange for a pair of prospects.

Duensing was limited to 70 pitches, but that hardly hindered him from keeping the Tribe's lineup at bay for six crisp innings. Cleveland's only breakthrough came in the fourth inning, when Asdrubal Cabrera singled and later scored on a base hit from Duncan. Duensing scattered five hits and ended with two strikeouts and no walks.

"It's very disappointing, the way we played in this series," Acta said. "You can't take anything away from them, either. They went out there and scored 28 runs in three days against us and we couldn't match any of that stuff. Today was just another game where they just out-played us. We just didn't do anything right."

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