By DAVE CAMPBELL, AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - When the Cleveland Indians were slumping their way through May, the Minnesota Twins weren't fooled.
Now, the AL Central leaders get another chance to check out their chief division rival when a three-game series begins Tuesday at the Metrodome.
And guess what? Just as the Twins have suspected all along, the Indians are again playing like a contender.
"As somebody said to me, Cleveland is lying in the weeds," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Well, if they're lying in the weeds, they've got bazookas and cannons in there.
"They're a good team."
The Indians have been one of the most up-and-down teams in the majors this season. Expected by many to slide back to the middle of the pack behind the Twins and Chicago after losing several stars from last year's lineup that won the Central and was a game away from the ALCS, Cleveland started 11-1 -- including a four-game sweep of Minnesota at Jacobs Field.
Then came 25 losses in 34 games.
And then came an 8-2 stretch to bring the Indians back to where they're at now -- 28-28, 3½ games behind the Twins and tied with the struggling White Sox for second place.
"We're back at .500," starting pitcher Chuck Finley said. "Maybe this will give us a shot in the arm to really get things going."
Minnesota's Denny Hocking pointed to Cleveland's veteran presence as a reason for the recent turnaround.
"That team's got a lot pride on it," Hocking said. "They look at their record and say, 'This isn't the team we assembled.' Guys start focusing more and playing better."
The Twins, at 32-25, have impressively kept a slew of injuries from derailing their season thus far. When second baseman Luis Rivas returns this week after missing two months with a broken wrist, the offense will finally be at full strength. With starters Brad Radke and Joe Mays still on the disabled list, the rotation hasn't been nearly as effective as people believed it would be and the bullpen has instead been the savior.
"It's still only June," said catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "We can't really be concerned about standings. We're more concerned about getting this team healthy."
Despite their success without a healthy team, the Twins don't plan on being able to coast away from the Indians once they get everyone back.
"They'll be there at the end, the White Sox will be there, too," Gardenhire said. "It should be a good race all the way down. We're not surprised by anything good that Cleveland does. We know it's going to be a war."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)