Twins-Royals Preview

The Minnesota Twins were the first team in the majors to clinch

a division title. The AL Central champs haven’t won much since.

Nick Blackburn, who earned Minnesota’s last victory, tries to

help the Twins avoid a season-high five-game losing streak and even

their series against the host Kansas City Royals on Tuesday.

After clinching the division late last Tuesday when the Chicago

White Sox were eliminated from the Central race in Oakland, the

Twins (92-64) have had plenty of time to adjust their rotation and

rest some key players for the division series.

Minnesota, though, still has a chance to beat out Tampa Bay

(93-63) and the New York Yankees (93-64) for home-field advantage

throughout the AL playoffs. Although the Rays and Yankees both lost

Monday, the Twins remained third in that race following a 10-8

defeat to the Royals (64-92).

Since Blackburn (10-10, 5.23 ERA) threw seven innings of

five-hit ball in a 5-1 win over Cleveland last Wednesday,

Minnesota’s starters are a combined 0-2 with an 11.74 ERA.

“We better get the edge back,” said manager Ron Gardenhire,

whose team hasn’t lost five in a row since a six-game skid May

15-20, 2009. “We’re swinging the bats better but it won’t make a

difference if we don’t pitch better.”

While Blackburn will likely follow Francisco Liriano, Carl

Pavano and Brian Duensing should Gardenhire go with a four-man

rotation in the postseason, the right-hander said he wouldn’t be

upset if he doesn’t make a playoff start.

“I’ll just be disappointed in what led up to me not being

there,” said Blackburn, 3-2 with a 1.81 ERA in six starts since

being recalled from the minors Aug. 22.

Blackburn, who has no record and a 9.64 ERA in two starts

against Kansas City this season, is trying to match his career high

in wins set each of the last two years.

Seeking to win their first home series against Minnesota since

Aug. 7-9, 2007, the Royals will give the ball to Sean O’Sullivan

(3-6, 6.28).

Acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in July, O’Sullivan gave up

two runs and four hits over six-plus innings of Thursday’s 4-2

victory at Cleveland. The right-hander had earned a win in relief

Aug. 22, but was 0-6 with a 7.84 ERA in 10 starts with his new

team.

“It’s been a little bit rough, so it feels good to finally be

able to contribute the way I want to,” O’Sullivan told the Royals’

official website.

The right-hander lasted 4 2-3 innings in a 5-4 loss at Minnesota

on Sept.6, walking a career-high five and surrendering five runs

and seven hits.

Twins right fielder Jason Kubel, who was 2 for 5 with a season

high-tying five RBIs on Monday, is 1 for 3 with a homer against

O’Sullivan.

Joe Mauer is not expected to play in this series after getting a

cortisone shot in his left knee Wednesday.

Minnesota leads the season series 12-4.