Preview: Twins vs. Cubs
Despite back-to-back wins over the top team in baseball, the Minnesota Twins' June has been sparse compared to the first two months of the season. Wins are coming by slim margins, and that's not going to change without improved offense.
More support Friday night at Target Field could be especially necessary given Phil Hughes' recent struggles and the Chicago Cubs' Kyle Hendricks showing consistency.
The Twins (36-30) completed a two-game home sweep of St. Louis with a 2-1 victory Thursday to give them three wins in five, but they've scored 2.8 runs per game in a 6-11 span this month. Minnesota averaged 4.6 runs through May.
Of their last 10 victories, five have come by a run and four by two. Minnesota had seven or fewer hits for a fourth straight game Thursday.
Joe Mauer tied it in the eighth with his third home run before Kennys Vargas connected on a two-out walk-off shot in the ninth. Mauer has batted .179 in the last 16 games while Vargas is at .171 in 11 contests straddling a stint in Triple-A.
"It was a couple big moments for guys looking for something to hopefully get jump-started," Twins manager Paul Molitor told MLB's official website.
Mauer is 10 for 28 against the Cubs, but Vargas is 4 for 22 versus NL pitching.
The bullpen has helped make some recent success possible with 11 scoreless innings over the 3-2 span, while the rotation has given them a chance to win by not allowing more than three runs in that stretch.
That dates to Hughes' last start, when the right-hander allowed three runs and nine hits in six innings of Sunday's 4-3 win at Texas.
Hughes (4-6, 4.79 ERA) won all four of his starts against NL opponents last season with a 2.42 ERA, and the Twins have taken seven of the last nine meetings with Chicago.
Hendricks (2-2, 3.80) is making his 13th start, matching the total from his rookie season, though he seems to be gathering momentum.
The right-hander yielded a run and four hits with seven strikeouts in five innings of Saturday's 4-3 home win over Cincinnati, throwing just 57 pitches and having his outing cut short by a rain delay. Hendricks didn't earn the decision but is 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in his last five starts.
The Cubs (35-29) fell 4-3 in Cleveland on Thursday but continued to see promise from their latest young addition.
Kyle Schwarber was 2 for 4 with his first career home run, and the midweek call-up is 6 for 10 with five runs and four RBI in his first three games. The 22-year-old catcher, who cruised through Chicago's farm system, has only been in the lineup as the designated hitter.
That's something the Cubs can continue in Minnesota, after which they plan to send him back to the minors.
"I'm just trying to take advantage of an opportunity that's been put in front of me," Schwarber said. "Whenever I can get in there - DH, catcher, whatever - I'm going to do it to the best of my ability. I've got to take advantage of what I'm getting here. Some people never make it to the big leagues. I'm in the big leagues right now, so I've got to take advantage of it."
Teammate Kris Bryant has continued to do that, batting .351 during a 14-game hitting streak.