Twins pitcher Ervin Santana is 5-0 with a 1.47 ERA in his last six starts, striking out 44 and surrendering just one homer over 43 innings.
The surging Minnesota Twins enter their final series with a playoff berth within reach.
Standing in their way is a Kansas City Royals team trying to lock down home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Trying to inch closer to their first playoff appearance in five years, the Twins turn to Ervin Santana — one of baseball’s top pitchers over the last month who is also ineligible for the postseason — as they face the banged-up Royals on Friday night at Target Field.
A year after finishing with the AL’s second-worst record, Minnesota (83-76) trails Houston by one game for the second wild card with three to play. Winners of five of six, the Twins have also caught the Los Angeles Angels as they try to chase down their first playoff berth since 2010.
"I love our chances," said Torii Hunter, who hit a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning of Thursday’s 4-2 comeback win in Cleveland. "Being a game back with three to go, all we wanted was a chance to get into the postseason. We’re giving ourselves a pretty good chance right now."
The AL Central-champion Royals (92-67) have a good chance of opening each of their postseason series at home. They’re tied with Toronto for the best record in the AL, though the Blue Jays — who finish their season in Tampa Bay — own the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series.
Kansas City’s No. 1 priority at this point, however, is entering the playoffs healthy.
The Royals wrapped up a three-game set on Chicago’s South Side on Thursday resting outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Alex Rios, and designated hitter Kendrys Morales and catcher Salvador Perez each departed during the 6-4 victory.
Cain was nursing a sore right knee sustained in Wednesday’s win while Rios was scratched because of a stiff back. Morales was lifted with tightness in his left quadriceps and Perez came out due to swelling in his right thumb.
Ryan Madson pitched in the ninth because closer Wade Davis had a stiff back.
Manager Ned Yost said none of the injuries were serious.
"They’re very trivial, day to day, probably overly cautious concerns," he said. "I mean just trying to do the smart thing."
Yost gives the ball to Chris Young (11-6, 3.15 ERA), who looks to build on an encouraging and emotional outing.
In his first start since July 28 after a two-month stint in the bullpen, Young tossed five no-hit innings while walking one in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Cleveland. The veteran right-hander was pitching a day after his father died and flew home before the game ended.
Young is 8-6 with a 3.30 ERA in 17 starts and starting a playoff game is not out of the question if he can deliver again. And that certainly seems possible considering he has a 0.77 ERA in two starts against Minnesota this season.
Hunter, Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe are a combined 1 for 22 against Young this year.
Santana is 5-0 with a 1.47 ERA in his last six starts, striking out 44 and surrendering just one homer over 43 innings.
The right-hander made his season debut against the Royals – his only matchup this season – on July 5 after being suspended 80 games for the use of performance-enhancing drugs which also bans him for the playoffs. Santana (7-4, 4.10), who pitched for Kansas City in 2013, gave up two runs and three hits in eight innings against his former team.
Mike Moustakas is 1 for 7 against Santana, but Eric Hosmer is 4 for 11 with a pair of homers and a double.
The Royals and Twins have alternated wins and losses in their last eight matchups, but Kansas City swept the last series at Target Field in June.
Joe Mauer is batting .328 with nine RBIs against the Royals this season and Miguel Sano is hitting .368 with a homer and two doubles in six matchups.
Dozier and Kurt Suzuki have not fared as well, however, with Dozier, who has a team-high 28 homers, batting .186 without a homer versus Kansas City. Suzuki is hitting .157 in the season series.