Twins Head To Baltimore, Begin Four-Game Series With Orioles

(Sports Network) - The Minnesota Twins have had their problems when playing on the road in recent weeks, but a visit to Baltimore's Camden Yards could help solve those struggles.

Minnesota starts up a week-long trek with tonight's opener of a four-game series with the hapless Orioles, owners of the worst home record in baseball this season.

The Twins have lost nine of their last 12 road tests and are just 20-25 away from home this year, one reason why the defending American League Central champions trail the Chicago White Sox by 2 1/2 games for first place in the division. Minnesota has found considerably more success at the brand-new Target Field, having amassed a 30-20 mark thus far in the team's first-year home.

Minnesota began its post-All Star break schedule with a seven-game homestand that featured three wins in four matchups with the rival White Sox this past weekend. The Twins then proceeded to drop a pair of contests to the last-place Cleveland Indians before averting a potential sweep with a 6-0 triumph in yesterday's series finale.

Francisco Liriano fired seven shutout innings to lead the way on Wednesday, while Delmon Young kept up his torrid hitting by collecting three hits and three RBI to pace Minnesota offensively. J.J. Hardy added a two-run double for the Twins, who scored four times in the third inning to give Liriano all the support he would need.

Liriano (8-7) scattered six hits and four walks while striking out eight batters in winning his second straight start following the break. The left- hander had gone 0-4 with a 6.75 earned run average in his final five outings of the first half.

Young, meanwhile, has hit .400 (12-for-28) with nine RBI in Minnesota's seven tilts since the All-Star Game, which has raised the former No. 1 overall pick's season average to .313.

Carl Pavano, who'll take the ball for the Twins in tonight's opener of this set, is on quite a roll of his own at the moment. The oft-injured righty enters this evening's clash having won six consecutive decisions and is unbeaten over an eight-start span dating back to June 9. Minnesota has prevailed in all but one of those games.

Pavano came up big once again this past Saturday, limiting Chicago to seven hits and striking out six without a walk in a complete-game effort that lifted the Twins to an important 3-2 victory. It was the third time the 34-year-old has gone the distance during his undefeated run, in which he's posted a strong 2.74 ERA and walked just seven batters in a combined 62 1/3 innings.

The 11-game winner was dealt a loss by the Orioles earlier this season, but still pitched well in that May 6 encounter in Minneapolis. Pavano worked eight innings and allowed just two runs while garnering eight strikeouts, but came out on the wrong end of a 2-0 decision.

Pavano is 4-3 with a 3.28 ERA over eight lifetime starts against Baltimore, and 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA in nine appearances on the road this season.

He'll be opposed tonight by Kevin Millwood, with the Orioles veteran set to return from a brief stint on the disabled list due to a strained right forearm. The right-hander was shelved for a couple of weeks after lasting only one inning in a rough showing against Detroit on July 5, with Millwood surrendering five runs on four hits and walking two batters before exiting.

The offseason acquisition, a 13-game winner for Texas last year, has endured a rough first season in Baltimore. Millwood has registered a subpar 5.77 ERA and allowed a .307 opposing average in his 18 starts, and had lost his first eight decisions prior to coming through with back-to-back wins over San Diego and Florida on June 19 and 24.

Millwood will be trying to beat Minnesota for the first time in his 14-year career, as he's 0-8 with a 5.71 in 13 lifetime starts against tonight's foe. The 35-year-old did have a solid performance against the Twins on May 8, but was stuck with a tough-luck defeat after permitting three runs through seven innings.

The Orioles, whose 30-64 overall record is the worst in the majors, picked up right where they left off before the break on this current homestand.

Baltimore has lost five of the first six tilts on the 10-game residency and comes in off a 5-4 setback to Tampa Bay on Wednesday.

Ty Wigginton slugged a two-run homer and Luke Scott went 2-for-4 with an RBI for Baltimore, but the O's failed to score over the final four innings after Tampa Bay took a 5-4 lead on a bases-loaded walk in the top of the sixth.

The Rays loaded the bases against Baltimore starter Brad Bergesen with one out in the sixth on a single and a pair of walks, but the Orioles nearly escaped the jam when new pitcher Jason Berken got Jason Bartlett to hit into a force play at home. Berken would then issue a free pass to Evan Longoria, though, to bring in the go-ahead run.

"I was just trying to throw my fastball down and away," Berken said. "I left it up and in. It wasn't the location I wanted."

Bergesen (3-8) received the loss after being charged with all five runs on nine hits in his 5 1/3-inning stint.

The Orioles fell to a woeful 17-30 at home with Wednesday's defeat, but have beaten the Twins in the last three meetings between the teams held at Camden Yards.

Minnesota played Wednesday's game without the services of manager Ron Gardenhire due to an undisclosed family matter, with third base coach Scott Ullger running the team in his absence. It's unclear whether Gardenhire will be available to return to his duties tonight.

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