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
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.”