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Twins Look For Sweep Of Rangers

Hoping to avoid a series sweep at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, the Texas Rangers may have the right pitcher on the mound today to accomplish that goal.

C.J. Wilson will attempt to register his eighth consecutive winning decision when he gets the call for Texas in Sunday’s finale of this three-game series between division leaders from Target Field. The converted reliever has been nothing short of sensational since the All-Star break, having amassed a 7-0 record and a 1.99 earned run average over nine second-half starts, while limiting the opposition to a .196 batting average.

Wilson has posted a 0.90 ERA in winning each of his last four outings, including a 4-3 decision over the Twins on August 25 in which he surrendered three runs (two earned) in six innings. The left-hander backed up that effort by firing 7 2/3 shutout frames to best Kansas City on Monday, with the Royals mustering a mere two hits off of him.

The 29-year-old hasn’t lost since July 11, but was dealt a defeat at Target Field back in May after being reached for five runs in six innings. For his career, Wilson is 1-2 with a 3.34 in 19 games against Minnesota, all but two of which have been in relief.

Wilson will also be trying to give the Rangers an elusive first-ever victory at first-year Target Field. After being swept in a three-game set in Minneapolis from May 28-30, Texas has dropped the first two tests of this series and was handed a 12-4 loss to the AL Central front-running Twins yesterday.

Jim Thome socked a pair of home runs, including a milestone three-run shot in the fourth inning, and finished with four RBI in Saturday’s rout, while Matt Tolbert knocked in a career-high five runs and tripled twice for Minnesota. J.J. Hardy also had a big day at the plate for the Twins, with the shortstop going 3-for-4 with two RBI.

Thome’s two long balls give the veteran slugger 584 over the course of his outstanding career and moved him past Mark McGwire for ninth place on baseball’s all-time list for that category. The 40-year-old is now two homers shy of matching Hall of Famer Frank Robinson for seventh place.

“It’s very humbling, but the main goal is where we’re at as a team,” said Thome when asked about passing McGwire. “If you can do something to help the team win as a group, it’s about that. It’s not about an individual.”

The Twins did receive a strong individual performance from pitcher Carl Pavano (16-10) in prevailing for the seventh time in their last nine games. The capable starter threw the first eight innings on Saturday and allowed three runs on eight hits to earn his 16th win of the season.

Texas’ Colby Lewis (9-12) wasn’t nearly as effective, permitting a whopping nine runs on eight hits before exiting after only 3 2/3 innings.

The Rangers have now lost five of their past seven contests following Saturday’s result. Although the club still holds an eight-game advantage on Oakland for first place in the AL West, it fell 3 1/2 games back of the Twins in the league standings, which could factor into playoff positioning in the future.

“We got to play better,” said second baseman Ian Kinsler, who went 2-for-4 with a solo homer in yesterday’s setback. “[Saturday] was a rough game. We’ve kind of done this the whole year, and we know we just have to play better.”

Minnesota also owns a 3 1/2-game lead on the second-place Chicago White Sox in the AL Central and will send Nick Blackburn to the hill for today’s finale. The right-hander had initially been slated to pitch Friday’s opener, but was pushed back after being forced into relief during a 13-inning clash with Detroit on Thursday.

Blackburn took the loss in that game after serving up a go-ahead homer to Gerald Laird in his lone inning of work, but was fantastic in his most recent starting assignment. That came in Seattle on August 28, with the 28-year-old allowing only two hits and coming one out away from earning his first career shutout.

This will Blackburn’s third start since returning from a near month-long stint in the minors, with his first coming against the Rangers in Arlington on August 23. He gave up three runs over a solid seven innings that night, but didn’t get any offensive support in a 4-0 loss.

The Oklahoma native is 0-2 with a 4.26 ERA over three career encounters with Texas, which took three of four meetings from the Twins at Rangers Ballpark last month.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.