(Sports Network) - Although the Minnesota Twins have already wrapped up first place in the American League's Central Division, the club still has something to play for and decisions to be made as it enters the final week of the regular season.
One of those choices involves Kevin Slowey, who will take the mound for the playoff-bound Twins in tonight's opener of a three-game series with the Kansas City Royals from Kauffman Stadium.
Minnesota is guaranteed a spot in the postseason, but isn't assured of hosting the first two games of next week's AL Division Series and still has a chance at home-field advantage throughout the league playoffs. The Twins presently trail Tampa Bay by one game in the race for the AL's best record.
The AL Central champs still stand a good chance of having home field for the upcoming ALDS, as they lead AL West winner Texas for five games with just seven left to play in the battle to take on the league's Wild Card recipient.
Manager Ron Gardenhire has already set his starting rotation for the postseason's first round, tabbing Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn to man those spots. That likely leaves Slowey and Scott Baker fighting to be the final pitcher on the ALDS roster, with each getting a chance to state his case during this series.
Slowey gets the first crack tonight and will be making his fourth start following a return from a two-week stint on the disabled list with a strained triceps. He's pitched well since being activated, having compiled a 2-0 record with a 2.55 earned run average and helping the Twins win each of those contests.
The right-hander put forth a particularly strong effort in his most recent start, a September 18 victory over Oakland in which he held the Athletics to two runs on five hits while striking out eight over 6 2/3 innings.
Slowey last faced the Royals back on September 6, when he threw four innings and allowed a pair of runs on seven hits in his first time back from his injury. The 26-year-old is 1-1 with a 3.31 ERA in three meetings with Kansas City this year, with the loss taking place at Kauffman Stadium on April 25. He was reached for four runs in 5 1/3 innings that day.
That defeat is the only one Slowey has experienced in six career decisions against the Royals, and he owns a 3.30 ERA over eight all-time appearances (seven starts) in this series.
Baker is slated to pitch Wednesday's finale of this set.
The Twins also come in hoping to regain a little lost momentum, as Gardenhire's squad were just swept in a three-game series at Detroit over the weekend. The Tigers came through with a 5-1 triumph on Sunday, with starting pitcher Rick Porcello limiting Minnesota to four hits over the first eight innings.
"We've got a lot of people beat up right now," said Gardenhire afterward. "It's always disappointing. No matter what we put out on the field, we expect to win. We didn't do it."
One of those players Gardenhire is referring to is Joe Mauer, the reigning AL MVP who hasn't seen action since September 19 due to a sore left knee. The All-Star catcher may be back in the lineup tonight, but only as a designated hitter.
Duensing (10-3) took the loss on Sunday after surrendering all five runs and a pair of homers in 6 2/3 innings of work, with Delmon Young's solo homer in the fourth accounting for the Twins' only score.
The Royals return home after dropping the final three tests of a four-game set in Cleveland, falling behind the Indians and into last place in the AL Central as a result.
Kansas City looked to be on its way to a series split, but squandered a late three-run advantage in a 5-3 defeat in Sunday's finale. The Indians rallied for five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, with Michael Brantley's pinch-hit two-RBI double with two out providing the winning margin.
Robinson Tejeda (3-5) came on in the eighth to protect the Royals' lead, but was rocked for six hits and all five Cleveland runs. The reliever served up a game-tying three-run homer to Shelley Duncan in addition to Brantley's clutch hit.
"[Cleveland] didn't hit anything hard outside the home run," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "Everything else was hit off the end of the bat or was a jam-shot, but they all counted."
Tejeda's meltdown spoiled an excellent outing from starter Bruce Chen, who limited the Tribe to four hits over 6 2/3 scoreless frames.
Yost will be hoping for a similar showing out of Kyle Davies this evening. The right-hander went the distance in his latest start, a 4-2 loss at Detroit this past Wednesday in which he allowed seven hits and struck out six over eight innings.
Davies has lost four of his last six decisions and is 8-11 with a 5.05 ERA in 30 starts for the season. This will be his second encounter with Minnesota in 2010, having lost a June 9 verdict in Minneapolis after permitting five runs (four earned) and walking five in a 6 2/3-inning stint.
In 10 career starts against Minnesota, Davies is 4-6 with a 4.88 ERA.
The Twins have dominated the season series between these two divisional foes, winning 12 of 15 matchups and the last six tilts. Minnesota is 5-1 at Kauffman Stadium this year and 19-5 on the road against the Royals since the start of the 2008 campaign.