Fresh off a wildly successful road trip, the surging Minnesota Twins return to Target Field this evening to play the first of three consecutive matchups with the Seattle Mariners.
The Twins are back home after going 6-1 on a week-long trek and winning the final five games of the swing. A prolific offense has carried the reigning American League Central champions during this successful stretch, as Minnesota has racked up an eye-popping 53 runs over the course of those five victories.
Ron Gardenhire's squad continued to swing the bats well in Wednesday's 6-4 triumph over Kansas City, as the Twins built a 5-0 lead after 3 1/2 innings and held off a late Royals comeback attempt.
Delmon Young began Minnesota's barrage by belting a three-run homer in the first inning and finished 3-for-5 for the Twins, who have won seven of their last eight overall and trail Chicago by only 1 1/2 games for first place in the AL Central. Jason Repko and Denard Span also collected three hits on the afternoon, with Repko adding a solo home run and Span contributing an RBI single.
Brian Duensing (4-1) did his part as well in Wednesday's win, with the Minnesota starter holding the Royals to two runs over the game's first six innings. Kansas City scored twice against the Twins bullpen in the eighth to pull within 5-4, but closer Jon Rauch threw a scoreless ninth to preserve the lead and nail down his 21st save of the year.
Minnesota has now prevailed in 10 of their 14 contests since the All-Star break and has been tough to beat at Target Field all throughout the season, having amassed a 30-20 record thus far at the first-year ballpark.
"We gotta keep up with the other guys now," said Gardenhire after Wednesday's result. "We have to play our schedule out and hopefully get some streaks together."
Young has played a big role in the Twins' recent tear. The outfielder is currently riding an eight-game hitting streak and is batting a scorching .540 (20-for-37) with three homers and 15 RBI during that span.
The Twins were also able to add some relief help on Thursday's off day, acquiring closer Matt Capps from Washington in exchange for well-regarded catching prospect Wilson Ramos. The 26-year-old Capps ranked fourth in the National League with 26 saves at the time of the deal and earned his first career All-Star nod this season by posting a 2.74 ERA in 47 appearances.
Minnesota beat up on doormats Baltimore and Kansas City during its successful trip and gets to face another favorable opponent tonight in the last-place Mariners, a team that's amassed a horrid 6-20 record thus far in July and comes in having been swept in a four-game series by the White Sox in Chicago.
After dropping a 9-5 decision in Thursday's finale, Seattle is now a poor 15-36 on the road this season.
The Mariners did receive three doubles and three runs scored from All-Star Ichiro Suzuki and a 2-for-3, two-RBI showing from Casey Kotchman in last night's loss, but starting pitcher David Pauley (0-3) lasted only 2 2/3 innings and was rocked for four runs and six hits.
You have to get ahead of hitters," said Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu, whose club walked five batters and served up four home runs on the evening. "When you fall behind, especially against a club with their power potential, you run into trouble."
Seattle has given the Twins some problems this year, however, having taken three of four meetings between the teams at Safeco Field earlier this season. The Mariners have also won five of the past six games in this overall series.
Doug Fister will take the mound for the Mariners in tonight's opener and will try once more to reclaim his early-season form. After producing a 3-1 record and a spectacular 1.72 ERA over his first seven starts, the towering right- hander has gone 0-5 with a 5.17 ERA in nine outings and spent nearly a month on the disabled list due to a fatigued throwing shoulder.
Fister has particularly struggled since returning from the injury, although he did give the Mariners five effective innings against Boston this past Sunday. The Fresno State product surrendered a pair of runs on seven hits and did not get a decision in an eventual 4-2 Seattle win.
Like his team, the 26-year-old has not performed well on the road this season, having put together a 1-3 record and a 5.74 ERA in six away starts. Fister also had an undesired outcome in a home assignment against the Twins on May 31, when he was reached for five runs in 7 2/3 innings to receive a loss.
In contrast, Minnesota's Scott Baker has usually been very good when pitching at home, with the right-hander bringing a 6-3 record and 3.90 ERA over 10 Target Field starts into tonight's tilt.
Baker wasn't sharp in his last Minneapolis appearance, however, yielding six runs and 10 hits before being removed after 4 2/3 innings of a July 19 loss to Cleveland. He rebounded by tossing a strong seven frames to defeat Baltimore on the road this past Saturday, though, with the Orioles managing just two runs on four hits and fanning eight times against the Oklahoma State product.
The 28-year-old will be out to improve upon a 1-3 record and 4.60 ERA over seven lifetime starts against Seattle when he toes the rubber this evening.