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Grienke, Liriano Face Off In KC

The Minnesota Twins had everything working on Sunday as they pulled even closer to the top spot in the American League Central.

They'll try to continue that tonight behind Francisco Liriano, who seeks a third straight winning start in the opener of a three-game series versus the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

The Twins took three of four from the lowly Baltimore Orioles, winning Sunday's finale 10-4 to get within one game of the first-place Chicago White Sox in the AL Central. Minnesota has won four of five overall.

Jason Kubel hit the seventh grand slam of his career and Delmon Young and Jim Thome added back-to-back homers in the sixth inning for Minnesota. Nick Punto posted three of the Twins' 19 hits on the day, which was plenty of offense for Kevin Slowey. The right-hander gave up just one run and five hits over six innings.

"They're kind of clicking at the right time," Thome said of the team's pitching and hitting. "Maybe we can get on a roll like that and get going. If we take care of our own business and focus every day on what we want to accomplish, hopefully we'll be where we want to be at the end."

The Twins won despite being without four regulars on Sunday. Second baseman Orlando Hudson sat out with a right oblique strain that forced him to the disabled list following the game, while center fielder Denard Span was out due to illness. Catcher Joe Mauer and shortstop J.J. Hardy also did not start, as manager Ron Gardenhire chose to rest the two.

Liriano should at least have Mauer and Hardy back in the lineup tonight as he seeks to improve on his 8-7 record and 3.54 earned run average on the season. He snapped a four-decision losing streak with 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball versus the White Sox on July 16, then hurled seven scoreless frames of six- hit, four-walk ball versus Cleveland on Wednesday. The left-hander struck out eight batters for a second start in a row as well.

The 26-year-old Liriano is 3-3 with a 4.84 ERA in nine career meetings versus the Royals, six of those starts. He faces them for the first time in 2010 tonight.

The Twins have gotten a pair of looks at tonight's starter for the Royals, Zack Greinke, and have posted eight earned runs over 10 innings in beating the 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner both times. Kubel, Span and Michael Cuddyer are a combined 8-for-16 with a homer and nine RBI versus Greinke, who is 3-6 with a 4.32 ERA lifetime versus Minnesota.

The 26-year-old former first-round pick has won five of his last six decisions and bounced back from a loss to Oakland on July 16 with a victory over Toronto on Wednesday. Lasting at least seven innings for the sixth time in seven outings, Greinke notched eight innings of two-run ball versus the Blue Jays, yielding six hits without a walk while striking out nine.

Greinke, a right-hander, improved to 6-9 with a 3.59 ERA this year.

The Royals return home after losing three of four to the Yankees in the Bronx, dropping Sunday's finale, 12-6.

Kansas City's Scott Podsednik homered twice and matched a career high with four RBI, stretching his hitting streak to 12 games. Rick Ankiel added a homer for the Royals, who have lost 10 of their last 13.

Sean O'Sullivan, in his first start with Kansas City since being acquired by the franchise from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, yielded five runs over five innings of work, while the Royals' relief group was tagged for seven runs, six of those earned.

"When we were really going good, we were real successful in the back end of our bullpen down two, three runs," said Royals' manager Ned Yost. "The bullpen guys were coming in and holding and giving us an opportunity to get back in the game. That's been a problem for us lately."

The Twins have won six of nine versus the Royals this year and 14 of the last 18 meetings overall between the teams. Minnesota is also 16-5 at Kauffman Stadium since the start of the 2008 season.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.