(Sports Network) - The Minnesota Twins take a growing lead atop the American League Central's Division into a six-game road trip that begins with tonight's matchup with the Cleveland Indians from Progressive Field.
The red-hot Twins just concluded a latest homestand by ripping off six consecutive victories and have won 11 of their past 13 contests to increase their margin over second-place Chicago in the Central standings. With the White Sox losing at Detroit on Thursday, Minnesota now owns a season-high six- game advantage for the division's top spot.
Following this three-game set against the Indians, the Twins will travel to Chicago for three straight meetings with the White Sox beginning Tuesday.
Minnesota will be entering Progressive Field off a three-game sweep of Kansas City capped off by Wednesday's 4-3 decision. The Twins scored three times in the bottom of the fifth inning to erase a 1-0 deficit, then staved off a Royals' rally in the ninth to prevail.
Denard Span knocked in two of the fifth-inning runs with a triple and Matt Tolbert added a RBI single for Minnesota. J.J. Hardy finished with two hits, including a solo home run, and scored twice to help back another strong outing from Twins starter Brian Duensing.
Duensing (8-2) worked the first eight innings and held the Royals to one run and six hits while striking out seven to improve to 5-1 as a starter this season.
"[Duensing] was good. His changeup was really good," said Kansas City manager Ned Yost. "The guys kept coming back [to the dugout] and were saying they could see [the changeup] good, they just couldn't wait on it."
Matt Capps picked up his 11th save since coming to the Twins in a midseason trade in Wednesday's win, despite letting up a pair of runs in the top of the ninth. The Royals brought the tying run to second base against the former Washington closer, but he retired pinch-hitter Mitch Maier on a game-ending fly ball to kill the comeback attempt.
Minnesota will send out one of its best road pitchers to open up this trip in 16-game winner Carl Pavano. The veteran righty has posted a very solid 3.20 earned run average in 15 starts away from home this season, while winning eight of 14 decisions.
Pavano was mired in a three-start losing streak that included back-to-back road setbacks to Texas and Seattle to close out August, but was able to return to the win column in last Saturday's 12-4 triumph over the Rangers in Minneapolis. The oft-injured hurler lasted eight innings that night and allowed three runs while scattering eight hits.
The 34-year-old, who made 21 starts for the Indians before being traded to the Twins during August of last season, beat his former club by tossing seven innings of two-run ball in an August 7 clash at Progressive Field and is 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA over four lifetime starts against Cleveland.
Pavano will be opposed tonight by Fausto Carmona, who'll be seeking to end a string of six consecutive losing starts in the opener. The 2010 All-Star hasn't won since an August 2 verdict over Boston at Fenway Park, and his most recent victory at home took place on July 23. Carmona has been dealt defeats in each of his last five trips to the Progressive Field mound, and is just 5-9 with a 4.32 ERA at his home park for the season.
Carmona did pitch well enough to end his drought in a September 3 game at Seattle, limiting the Mariners to one run and four hits in an eight-inning complete game. However, the right-hander received no help from his offense and came out on the short end of a 1-0 decision.
The Dominican native's losing skid began in a head-to-head battle with Pavano at Progressive Field on August 7, with Carmona reached for five runs and 10 hits over 7 1/3 innings. The result continued his career-long struggles against the Twins, as the 26-year-old is 3-8 with a 5.52 ERA over 16 games (12 starts) versus Minnesota.
Cleveland returns home after going 4-3 on a seven-game West Coast swing. The Tribe had a chance to produce a series sweep over the fading Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Wednesday, but came up just short in a 4-3, 16-inning loss.
Torii Hunter led off Anaheim's half of the 16th with a double off Hector Ambriz and moved to third on a groundout before Jeff Mathis lofted a fly ball to right that was plenty deep enough to bring home the deciding run.
The Indians had sent the contest into extra innings by scratching home a run in the top of the ninth. Matt LaPorta started the rally with a leadoff single, with pinch-runner Luis Valbuena advancing on a Jason Donald base hit before racing home on Jayson Nix's single off Angels closer Fernando Rodney.
Andy Marte had a solo homer earlier on for Cleveland, while starting pitcher Josh Tomlin surrendered three runs and just three hits in a six-inning stint. Ambriz (0-2) pitched 3 1/3 innings in relief, permitting just the one run and a single hit.
Minnesota has won seven of 12 games against the Indians this season, including four of the six bouts held in Cleveland.