Now reduced to the role of spoiler, the Detroit Tigers will try to put a wrench in the Minnesota Twins' postseason plans when the two American League Central rivals begin a three-game series tonight from Target Field.
Detroit stood just a half-game back of the then-first place Chicago White Sox in the AL Central standings at the All-Star break, but have gone an league- worst 17-28 thus far in the second half to fall well behind in the race. On the other hand, the Twins have the best record in the majors following the break at 29-14, which has allowed the reigning division champs to pull four games ahead of the White Sox for the top spot.
Minnesota has been especially tough at first-year Target Field as of late, having prevailed in 11 of its last 13 games at its new ballpark to up its season mark to 40-22 at the venue. The Twins have taken five of six meetings at home this season from the Tigers, who are a lackluster 22-41 on the road for the year and 3-13 in Minneapolis since the start of the 2009 campaign.
Brian Duensing has certainly played a part in the Twins' second-half surge, as the young lefty has compiled a 4-1 record and a 2.66 earned run average in seven starts following a move to the rotation in late July. He'll be attempting to bounce back from his lone loss during that stretch when he takes the ball for tonight's opener, though.
Duensing was dealt a defeat by AL West leader Texas this past Wednesday in Arlington after being reached for four runs and serving up a pair of homers in six innings of work. The former University of Nebraska standout had won three consecutive starts prior to that setback, including a three-hit shutout of Oakland at Target Field back on August 14.
The 27-year-old has been tremendous on the home mound this season, having generated a 4-1 record and a splendid 1.36 ERA over two starts and 23 relief appearances there. He's also walked only four batters in 39 2/3 innings over the course of those games.
Duensing started twice against the Tigers during September of last season and split a pair of decisions, with the win taking place at the Metrodome via 6 1/3 shutout innings. He owns a 2.28 ERA over nine overall matchups with Detroit.
Minnesota returns home from a seven-game road trip through Texas and Seattle in which the team lost its first three tests against the Rangers before salvaging the series finale. The Twins then won their first two tilts against the Mariners, but couldn't come through with a sweep after dropping a 2-1 decision on Sunday.
The Twins carried a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning of Sunday's tilt after Michael Cuddyer homered in the top of the frame, but Seattle scored twice off starting pitcher Carl Pavano in its half and held on the rest of the way.
Pavano (15-10) lasted seven innings on the afternoon and allowed just the two runs on five hits and one walk.
"Disappointing way to end the series here when you pitch that well -- you only gave up two runs -- but [the Mariners] pitched pretty well too, I guess," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire remarked.
Detroit has managed to win seven of its last 10 games and earned a split of a four-game weekend set at Toronto with Sunday's 10-4 triumph. Ryan Raburn socked a pair of homers and knocked in four runs to pace the Tigers offensively, while starting pitcher Rick Porcello did his part by tossing seven strong innings on the hill.
Brandon Inge added a two-run homer and Casper Wells went 2-for-5 with three RBI to give Porcello (7-11) plenty of support. The Tigers built a 4-0 advantage after 5 1/2 innings, then broke the game open with a three-run seventh.
"It was good to see us come out and jump out [to an early lead]," said Inge. "It's something we need to do. Get some early runs and let our pitchers do their thing."
Porcello held the Blue Jays' power-hitting lineup to just one run -- a solo homer by John McDonald in the sixth -- and three hits and did not issue a walk.
Armando Galarraga, who gets the call for Detroit this evening, has been very sharp as well as of late. The architect of a near-perfect game earlier this season halted an eight-start winless stretch by firing seven shutout innings to beat Cleveland on August 20, then limited Kansas City to one run and five hits in a 6 1/3-inning no-decision on Wednesday.
Much like his team, Galarraga hasn't fared well on the road this year, however. In six starts in visiting parks so far in 2010, the right-hander is 1-2 with a bloated 6.44 ERA and has allowed the opposition to hit .325 off him.
The 28-year-old Venezuelan also hasn't had much success when facing the Twins in the past, as his 1-6 record and 6.14 ERA over 10 games (eight starts) will attest. Galarraga was hit hard in a June 29 matchup at Target Field, surrendering six runs and seven hits before exiting after four innings of an 11-4 loss.
Minnesota has won seven of 12 overall bouts between these teams this season.