The Minnesota Twins have been scoring runs in bunches during a current three-game winning streak. With the way Carl Pavano has pitched of late, the American League Central contenders may not need such an offensive outburst when they take on the Kansas City Royals tonight at Kauffman Stadium.
The Twins have racked up 36 runs over their three-game surge and reached double digits for the second straight day in last night's 19-1 shellacking of the Royals. The rout came on the heels of a 10-4 victory at Baltimore on Sunday.
Minnesota jumped on Kansas City ace Zack Greinke for six runs in the first inning, capped by a grand slam off the bat of Danny Valencia. Joe Mauer had a three-run homer later in the game as part of a 5-for-5, seven-RBI performance for the reigning AL MVP.
Valencia had a huge night as well, going 4-for-4 with four runs scored in addition to his first career home run.
"What better way to start it off," said Valencia of his slam. "It's nice obviously. Not only to hit a home run, but a grand slam off a guy who's an accomplished big-leaguer and who has won a Cy Young. It was great."
Delmon Young also had four hits, including an RBI double, while Alexi Casilla knocked in three runs to help Minnesota improve to 8-3 since the All-Star break. The surge has moved the Twins within one game of Chicago's lead atop the AL Central.
Minnesota also received excellent pitching from Francisco Liriano (9-7) in Monday's opener of this three-game set, with the talented lefty yielding just three hits and striking out six without a walk over seven shutout innings.
The Twins' pitching staff as a group has lacked consistency this season, but Pavano has emerged as both an ace and a needed workhorse for the rotation. The veteran right-hander, best known for a propensity for injury during the earlier stages of his career, enters tonight's tilt having won seven consecutive decisions and is unbeaten over a nine-start stretch that began on June 9. The Twins have gone 8-1 in those games.
The 34-year-old continued his stellar pitching by firing a five-hit shutout to best Baltimore this past Thursday at Camden Yards. It was Pavano's second straight complete game and the fourth time in his last seven starts he's gone the distance, and the 12-game winner has pitched into the seventh inning in each of his last 12 trips to the mound.
Pavano has registered an outstanding 2.40 earned run average over the course of his nine-start undefeated streak and has won four straight decisions on the road, where he's compiled a 6-3 record and a 3.04 ERA in 10 starts thus far in 2010. One of those victories came at Kauffman Stadium, with the rejuvenated hurler holding the Royals to two runs and four hits through seven sharp innings back on April 23.
This will be Pavano's fourth overall matchup with Kansas City this season, and he's 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA over his first three 2010 outings in the series. He's 6-5 in 12 lifetime games (11 starts) against the Royals, but has a 6.62 ERA over that stretch.
He'll be facing a Kansas City club that's lost four of its past five tests and got a miserable showing out of the usually-reliable Greinke (6-10) in the opener. The 2009 AL Cy Young Award recipient was battered for eight runs on eight hits before exiting after only four innings.
"It was bad. Bad everything," Greinke stated afterward.
The Royals will be hoping for an improved effort from the struggling Bruce Chen this evening. The well-traveled left-hander has surrendered 12 runs in a 15-inning span over his last three starts, taking a loss on two of those occasions and a no-decision in the other.
Chen was last in action Thursday at Yankee Stadium, where he was reached for five runs and nine hits over six frames in a loss to AL East-leading New York. He had a similar pitching line in his first start following the All-Star break, permitting four runs on nine hits through 5 2/3 innings in a July 17 no-decision against Oakland.
The 33-year-old went 4-3 with a solid 3.66 ERA over his first seven starts since joining the Royals' rotation in late May, but has pitched to a 7.20 figure during his three-game winless run.
Chen did notch a victory over the Twins on June 10, despite allowing five runs and 10 hits in 6 1/3 innings. The win was the Panama native's first in three career decisions against Minnesota, and he's recorded an unimpressive 6.08 ERA in 12 appearances (two starts) versus tonight's foe.
The Twins have won seven of 10 versus the Royals this year, as well as 15 of the last 19 overall meetings between the teams. Minnesota is also 17-5 at Kauffman Stadium since the start of the 2008 season.