Orioles-Twins Preview

The Baltimore Orioles have excellent numbers in virtually every offensive category. Most of those, however, were accumulated before the last nine games.

Another challenge for their struggling offense awaits Wednesday when they face red-hot Tommy Milone, who tries to pitch the Minnesota Twins to their first sweep of the Orioles in eight years.

Baltimore ranks among the AL leaders in runs, batting average and slugging percentage, but that hasn’t been apparent recently.

Since surging to the top of the East during a 16-4 run through late June that saw them average 6.3 runs, the Orioles (43-41) have trended in the opposite direction. They’ve scored 27 runs – nine coming in one game – during a 2-7 stretch, striking out 78 times and going 7 for 61 (.115) with runners in scoring position.

J.J. Hardy had a two-run homer in Tuesday’s 8-3 loss, Baltimore’s fourth straight at Target Field.

Top prospect Miguel Sano hit a towering two-run shot for his first home run and Eddie Rosario added two RBIs to help Minnesota (45-39) win two in a row for the first time a three-game run June 17-19.

Sano has made a seamless transition to the majors, going 9 for 20 with five RBIs in six games since being promoted from Double-A.

”I don’t feel like any pressure here,” the 22-year-old Sano said. ”The same baseball and when I go hit, I try to hit the ball the same way I try to hit. I don’t try to do too much because if I try to do too much, I can pull the ball or something like that, a groundball, a lot of strikeouts. Otherwise, I try to hit the ball and put in play.”

Joe Mauer went 2 for 4 with three runs and is batting .379 in his last 16 games. He’s a career .344 hitter against the Orioles.

Milone’s recent performances should have the Twins confident in completing their first sweep of the Orioles since taking all seven meetings in 2007.

Milone (4-1, 3.02 ERA) has been a revelation since rejoining the rotation in early June. In six starts since returning, the left-hander is 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA while completing at least six innings in five consecutive outings. He limited Kansas City to one run and five hits over six innings before leaving without a decision in a 3-2 loss Friday.

He’s experienced similar success in three starts against Baltimore, going 1-1 with a 1.89 ERA.

Manny Machado (5 for 8) and Hardy (4 for 9), though, have fared well in this matchup.

Ubaldo Jimenez (7-4, 2.96) looks to continue a string of solid outings for Baltimore. The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.74 ERA in his last seven starts and was excellent Friday against the Chicago White Sox. He allowed a solo homer and five other hits over seven innings in a tough-luck 1-0 loss.

In 16 starts, Jimenez has held opponents to three earned runs or fewer 14 times and pitched at least six innings on nine occasions. Most impressive is how much his control has improved from last season, when he walked 5.53 per nine innings – the majors’ worst total among pitchers with at least 125 innings. He’s averaging a career-best 2.77 walks this year.

Jimenez is 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA in five career starts at Target Field.

Torii Hunter is 8 for 21 against him and Brian Dozier is 5 for 12.