(Sports Network) - The Minnesota Twins return to Target Field tonight for their final series of the regular season. They would like to stay there for as long as possible during the upcoming American League Playoffs.
With home-field advantage for the opening two rounds of the postseason still a possibility, the Twins play the first of four straight matchups with the Toronto Blue Jays tonight in Minneapolis.
The AL Central champion Twins enter this set one game behind East-leading Tampa Bay in the battle for the best overall record in the Junior Circuit. Minnesota will host either the Rays or the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the AL Division Series, which begins next Wednesday.
Manager Ron Gardenhire has already tabbed Francisco Liriano as his starting pitcher for the ALDS opener, and the left-hander will make a final tuneup for that start tonight. He'll also be seeking to rebound from a pair of subpar showings in his last two outings.
Liriano was tagged for five runs in five innings of a home setback to Oakland on September 19, then was pulled after only three frames in last Friday's tilt at Detroit. The 26-year-old had allowed two runs and four hits before exiting and wound up with the loss in a 10-1 Tigers' rout.
Prior to the Oakland game, Liriano had ripped off eight straight winning decisions in a span of 11 starts, and he's 14-9 with a solid 3.48 earned run average in 30 assignments for the year.
The native Dominican has faced the Blue Jays just twice during his career and only once as a starter. That lone start took place at the Metrodome on April 16, 2009, with Liriano permitting two runs -- one earned -- over six innings in a tough-luck defeat.
He'll be hoping to have Joe Mauer back in the lineup tonight. The 2009 AL MVP has not played since September 19 due to inflammation in his left knee, but is expected to serve as the designated hitter for this evening's opener.
The Twins have struggled during Mauer's absence, having lost a season-high five straight games to begin their just-completed road trip before salvaging Wednesday's finale with a 4-2 decision over Kansas City.
Minnesota trailed the Royals 2-0 after five innings before putting up a pair of runs in the sixth, then went ahead on Delmon Young's solo homer in the top of the seventh. Young extended the margin in his next at-bat, delivering an RBI single in the ninth.
The Twins were able to avoid being swept in back-to-back series for the first time since July 8-13, 2003.
"We needed to turn things around, but as long as we're in the playoffs no one's going to remember this [losing streak]," said Young.
Matt Guerrier (5-7) picked up the victory with 1 2/3 perfect innings in relief of starter Scott Baker, who struck out nine Kansas City hitters and surrendered two runs over the first five frames.
The Blue Jays come in having won six of their last seven contests and just took two of three bouts from the playoff-bound Yankees to complete a 7-2 homestand. Toronto won Wednesday's rubber match by an 8-4 score, receiving home runs from John Buck, Aaron Hill and Travis Snider on the night.
The three long balls give the Blue Jays a major league-best 247 on the season, a new franchise record. The win also moved the club to 82-76 overall, ensuring Toronto its fourth winning campaign in the last five years.
Hill belted a three-run shot in the bottom of the fifth inning to give the Jays a commanding 7-0 lead and added an RBI single later on. Snider finished with two hits and knocked in a pair of runs to help young pitcher Brett Cecil obtain his 15th win of 2010.
Cecil (15-7) lasted 5 1/3 innings in his final start of the year, giving up three runs on nine hits in a 92-pitch stint.
Wednesday's clash was the final one at home for Toronto, and the team paid tribute to outgoing manager Cito Gaston with a pre-game ceremony. Gaston, who will retire at season's end, spent two tours of duty as the Blue Jays' skipper and guided the organization to its only two World Series championships in 1992 and 1993.
"You could just feel the electricity," said Buck of the event. "I think it's kind of like what they said is, that's how much Cito's meant to this organization and this team, and all the players he's either managed, coached or played with, obviously says a lot for him."
Toronto now hits the road and will send out Shawn Hill to oppose Liriano this evening. The oft-injured righty makes his fourth start since being called up from Triple-A Las Vegas earlier this month.
After losing his first two times out following the promotion, Hill fired five shutout innings and struck out seven batters against Seattle on September 23 to collect his first major league win since April 10, 2009, while then a member of San Diego. The Ontario native made just three starts for the Padres last season before undergoing the second elbow ligament replacement surgery of his career.
The 29-year-old, who went 6-2 with a 1.61 ERA in 11 minor league starts while rehabbing the injury prior to being brought up, has pitched just once previously against Minnesota. That took place in 2008 while then with the Washington Nationals and wasn't a pleasant experience, as he was tagged for seven runs (six earned) and 10 hits in just 3 2/3 innings to take the loss.
The Blue Jays have won three of five meetings between these teams this year, all of which were held at the Rogers Centre. Toronto has also fared well in Minneapolis over the previous two seasons, having won six of seven games as the visitor in this series during that time frame.