By MATT BEARDMORE
(AP) -- The Cleveland Indians held the AL Central lead for the majority of May. They'll open June looking up in the standings.
Cleveland looks to avoid a sixth loss in seven games Friday night at Progressive Field, where it opens a series against a Minnesota Twins club looking to build off its first three-game sweep in nearly a year.
Atop the division standings from April 24-May 28, the Indians (27-23) have dropped 1 1/2 games behind the Chicago White Sox, winners of eight straight.
"The day off comes at a perfect time," Cleveland manager Manny Acta said following Wednesday's 6-3 loss to Kansas City. "We all need to go home and relax, and come back and play better baseball on Friday. This was not a good series. The week continues to be rough for us."
While injuries have hit the Indians' lineup hard, with designated hitter Travis Hafner (knee) and third baseman Jack Hannahan (strained calf) recently placed on the disabled list and catcher Carlos Santana on the seven-day concussion list, Cleveland's priority should be improved pitching.
The staff has a 9.18 ERA during the 1-5 skid, with the starters combining for a 11.89 ERA.
"If we get the pitching situation ironed out, the bullpen will get ironed out," said closer Chris Perez, the major league leader with 17 saves.
Friday's scheduled starter Derek Lowe (6-3, 3.25 ERA) didn't need help from the bullpen in his last start versus Minnesota - throwing a six-hitter in a 5-0 victory at Target Field on May 15 for his fourth major league shutout - but the veteran sinkerballer has lost both of his outings since then.
Lowe was tagged for a season-high eight runs and lasted a season-low 2 1-3 innings in Saturday's 14-7 road loss to the White Sox.
"Sometimes you just stink and there's no reason to analyze the game," he said. "When you stink, you stink. It was a bad time for a really bad game."
The AL-worst Twins (18-32) have had more than a few bad games this season, but they make their first visit to Cleveland on the heels of a three-game home sweep of Oakland - their first three-game sweep since last June 17-19 versus San Diego.
"It's a really good feeling," left fielder Josh Willingham told the Twins' official website after going 4 for 11 with two homers and seven RBIs in the series against the Athletics. "I hope we get to experience it more and keep it going. I feel like we've pitched the ball really well the past three games."
The Twins have one of the worst staff ERAs in the majors at 5.25, but allowed six total runs in the Athletics series.
Minnesota hopes Carl Pavano (2-4, 5.46) can continue the recent solid pitching and help the club match its longest winning streak of 2012, a four-game run May 16-19.
The veteran right-hander is trying to bounce back from a 6-3 loss to Detroit on Saturday in which he yielded a season-high six runs in 4 1-3 innings.
Pavano faces the Indians for the 11th time since they traded him to the Twins in 2009. He gave up four runs in six innings of a 5-4 home loss to Cleveland on May 14, falling to 2-3 with a 3.34 ERA in his 10 starts in this series since leaving the Indians.
The Indians, winners of 10 of the last 11 overall meetings with the Twins including a two-game sweep at Target Field from May 14-15, went 6-3 at home against Minnesota in 2011.
The Twins did win their last game at Progressive Field, a 6-4, 10-inning victory Sept. 25 that ended a five-game skid in Cleveland and a string of eight straight overall losses to the Indians.
Updated May 31, 2012