After posting 70 wins for the 10th straight year, the Minnesota Twins have their sights set on reaching the playoffs in consecutive seasons. The AL Central leaders are on the right path and will shoot for a three-game sweep of the rival Chicago White Sox tonight at Target Field.
The Twins won their sixth straight game with last night's 7-6 victory and extended their lead in the division to five games ahead of Chicago. Delmon Young stroked an RBI double and Danny Valencia provided a run-scoring single during a decisive three-run sixth inning for Minnesota, which was able to squeeze out a win even though starter Francisco Liriano didn't have his best stuff.
Liriano was fortunate not to receive a loss, as he was reached for five runs on six hits and four walks in five innings. He managed to strike out five batters, with Jeff Manship collecting the win with 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief. Jesse Crain followed with 1 2/3 frames and Matt Capps gave up a run in the ninth before settling down for his fifth save. Capps had 26 saves in 47 games for Washington earlier this season.
"I've been battling against myself and some things didn't feel that good out there the last couple of times," Capps said. "To get through it and get through the inning without another run scoring, it's pretty satisfying."
Twins All-Star Joe Mauer finished 4-for-5 with his first home run at Target Field, along with two RBI and a pair of runs scored, while Michael Cuddyer collected three hits in a winning effort.
Minnesota would surely be satisfied to capture an AL West title for a second consecutive year and will also host the LA Angels of Anaheim over the weekend. It has won nine in a row in the Twin Cities, where it is 38-20 in 2010.
Twins starter Carl Pavano has been reborn this season and will take the mound in Thursday's series finale. Pavano has lost only once in his last 13 starts, going 10-1 with a 2.63 earned run average over that span, and is aiming for his third consecutive win.
Pavano last handled pitching duties in Friday's 4-3 win over Oakland and limited the A's to a pair of runs on 10 hits through 6 1/3 innings. The effort pushed his mark to 15-7 in 24 starts to go along with a 3.27 earned run average. Pavano is enjoying his best season since recording an 18-8 record back in 2004 as a member of the Marlins.
The right-hander, who is 7-3 in 11 home starts in 2010, defeated the White Sox on July 17 with a 3-2 triumph. He went the distance that day and permitted two runs and seven hits. Pavano is 2-0 versus Chicago this season and 5-2 in seven career starts against the White Sox.
Chicago has lost four in a row and eight of 10 games and is beginning to fade from the postseason picture. Besides sitting well behind Minnesota in the Central standings, the Pale Hose are also nine games off the pace in the American League Wild Card race.
Gavin Floyd was rocked for seven runs and 10 hits through 5 1/3 innings on Wednesday to absorb the loss for the White Sox, who took a brief lead in the second inning thanks to veteran Andruw Jones' three-run home run. Juan Pierre had a busy night on the basepaths, collecting four hits and an RBI in defeat.
"Hopefully we win [Thursday] and change the scenario a little bit," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said following the club's second straight 7-6 loss. "In the meanwhile, hopefully this thing goes all the way to the end."
Chicago dropped a 7-6 decision in 10 innings on Tuesday, and will next visit Kansas City for a three-game weekend series.
Mark Buehrle will face the rival Twins for a third time this year on Thursday and is 1-1 with a 3.94 earned run average in his previous two 2010 starts against them. In his most recent appearance versus Minnesota, Buehrle was dealt the loss back on July 17 after he allowed all three runs in eight innings of work of a 3-2 setback.
Buehrle is 24-17 with a subpar 4.08 ERA in 45 career matchups (43 starts) with the Twins. He has won five of his last seven decisions overall and defeated Detroit his last time out in an 8-4 triumph on Friday, allowing three runs and five hits in 6 1/3 innings.
The left-hander, who is 11-9 in 24 starts in 2010, is aiming for his sixth road win of the season tonight. He is 5-7 with a 3.60 ERA in 13 starts away from U.S. Cellular Field.
Minnesota has won 10 of the 14 meetings with Chicago thus far in 2010. It hasn't swept the White Sox in a three-game set since September 21-23 of last season in the Windy City.