The Minnesota Twins will attempt to extend their current winning streak to four games when the American League Central front-runners take on a team they've had plenty of success against this season, the Kansas City Royals, this afternoon in a Labor Day matinee from Target Field.
The Twins head into the opener of this three-game series off an impressive home sweep of AL West-leading Texas over the weekend, taking all three matchups with the Rangers to continue their tremendous recent play at Target Field. In Sunday's finale, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer both knocked in two runs and Minnesota staved off a late Texas rally to hold on for a 6-5 victory.
Twins starter Nick Blackburn did his part as well, yielding just two runs and six hits over the first seven innings to even his season record at 9-9. The right-hander had to sweat out the win, however, after the Rangers scored three times off relievers Jon Rauch and Matt Capps in the top of the ninth.
An RBI double by Julio Borbon and Cristian Guzman's run-scoring single off Capps in the ninth brought Texas within 6-4, and Michael Young followed with a two-out base hit before David Murphy walked to load the bases. Vladimir Guerrero then delivered an infield single to plate Guzman for a one-run game, but Young was called out for runner's interference on the play after making incidental contact with third-base coach Dave Anderson while rounding the bag.
The controversial call enabled the Twins to win for the 16th time in their last 19 games at Target Field, where the team has amassed an excellent 45-23 record for the season, and remain 3 1/2 games ahead of Chicago for first place in the AL Central. The White Sox swept a three-game set at Boston this past weekend.
"They're a really good team," Minnesota shortstop J.J. Hardy said of the Rangers. "These weren't easy games. Two of them were one-run ballgames. It was really nice to get out there and get that win [Sunday]."
Kansas City, on the other hand, is an unimpressive 26-42 on the road so far in 2010 and has lost eight of its past 12 overall. The non-contending Royals were able to halt a three-game skid, however, by edging Detroit by a 2-1 count Sunday at Kauffman Stadium.
Alex Gordon's leadoff homer in the bottom of the sixth inning snapped a 1-1 deadlock and rewarded teammate and starting pitcher Kyle Davies (7-9), who worked the first six frames and surrendered just one run and three hits. The blast came on the first pitch Gordon saw from Tigers reliever Brad Thomas.
"Just be aggressive," Gordon said when asked of his approach during the at- bat. "That's what I did. I got my fastball to hit and I was able to do something with it."
Gil Meche and Robinson Tejeda protected the one-run lead with a scoreless inning of relief each, with closer Joakim Soria retiring the side in order in the ninth to register his 37th save of the season.
Soria hasn't had too many save opportunities when facing the Twins this season, however. Minnesota is 9-3 against the Royals in 2010 and has won four of six meetings with Kansas City held in Minneapolis as well. In the last series between these divisional foes, the Twins outscored the Royals by a 36-7 in taking all three tests from July 26-28.
Kevin Slowey, who'll be toeing the rubber for Minnesota this afternoon, has also fared well when facing the Royals in the past. The right-hander owns a 5-1 record with a 3.19 earned run average in seven career appearances (six starts) against today's opponent and tossed seven shutout innings of three-hit ball to defeat Kansas City at Target Field back on June 8.
Slowey will be making his first start since an August 21 home loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, having spent the past two-plus weeks on the disabled list with a strained triceps. He lasted only three innings in that outing and was reached for four runs on seven hits, two of which were homers.
Prior to that setback, Slowey had no-hit the Oakland Athletics through seven innings in an August 15 win, but was removed by manager Ron Gardenhire after exceeding his pitch limit.
Sean O'Sullivan gets the call for Kansas City today for his first-ever encounter with the Twins. The young right-hander, acquired in a trade with the Angels in late July, hasn't made a very good impression on his new club during his short stay in Kansas City
O'Sullivan is 1-4 with a bloated 6.59 ERA in eight games (seven starts) since the swap and allowed four or more runs in five of those assignments. He's also served up nine homers -- including three in a no-decision against Texas on Tuesday -- in a combined 41 innings pitched with the Royals.
The 23-year-old permitted six runs total in five innings versus the Rangers and is 1-3 with a 5.45 ERA in five starts and one relief appearance on the road this year.