Tigers-Twins Preview

The way the Minnesota Twins have played at Target Field lately,

they may be hoping to seal the AL Central title for all practical

purposes by the end of their nine-game homestand.

That stretch has begun with back-to-back victories over the

Detroit Tigers, and the Twins will go for a three-game sweep

Thursday night behind red-hot right-hander Scott Baker.

Minnesota (77-56) has built a four-game division lead over

Chicago thanks in part to winning 13 of its last 15 at home.

The Tigers (65-68) have lost seven of eight at the Twins’ new

outdoor stadium, including a 2-1, 10-inning defeat Wednesday night

that was capped by rookie third baseman Danny Valencia’s walk-off

RBI single.

Valencia is 5 for 9 in this series, raising his average to


“I knew I’d be able to play up here obviously, but to do this

well it’s pretty surreal,” Valencia said. “I’m just happy the way

it’s going right now.”

While the Twins continue to operate without slugger Justin

Morneau and deal with recent injuries to Orlando Hudson and Jim

Thome, strong pitching has been the hallmark of their recent


Minnesota has held opponents to four runs or fewer in 10

consecutive games, posting a 2.28 ERA in that stretch. Since the

All-Star break, the Twins’ 3.36 staff ERA ranks second in the


Baker (12-9, 4.55 ERA) has certainly done his part, helping

Minnesota win each of the last seven times he has started. He’s 5-0

with a 3.02 ERA in those outings.

Baker, whose improvement has coincided with a mechanical change,

allowed two runs in 6 2-3 innings of a 6-3 victory over Seattle on

Friday. He posted similar results when he faced Detroit at home May

3, yielding three runs in seven innings of a 10-4 win.

It may be difficult for the Twins to provide him with as much

support against Justin Verlander (14-8, 3.58).

The Tigers’ ace has completed eight innings in each of his last

two outings, with three solo home runs accounting for all of the

damage against him.

Two of those homers came in Detroit’s 3-2, 11-inning loss to

Toronto on Friday, but Tigers manager Jim Leyland still called

Verlander’s performance “tremendous.”

“This was one of the best games he’s pitched all year,” Leyland


Verlander has a 1.64 ERA in two starts against the Twins this

year, but has failed to make it through six innings in either of

them, going 1-1. This will be his first appearance at Target Field

– likely a welcome development for the right-hander, who went 1-2

with a 4.32 ERA in five starts at the Metrodome.

Detroit has struggled in virtually any road venue lately. Dating

back to their last series at Minnesota from June 28-30, the Tigers

have lost 20 of 26 away from home, falling to 22-43 on the season.

Only Washington, Baltimore, Seattle and Pittsburgh have worse road


The Tigers’ lineup, which included four rookies Wednesday, has

been erratic in the second half, scoring three or fewer runs 25

times in 47 games.

“We’ve got (young players) throughout the lineup and that’s

going to happen, but we have to just keep grinding it,” Leyland

said. “They’ll learn at some point in their careers.”