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Twins Look To Even Series With Blue Jays

(Sports Network) - Seeking to regain some momentum for the upcoming American League Playoffs, the Minnesota Twins continue a four-game series with the heavy-hitting Toronto Blue Jays tonight at Target Field.

The Twins have been in a rut ever since clinching the AL Central title with a 6-4 victory over Cleveland on September 21. The club has lost six of its past seven games and has received some awful pitching during that stretch, having surrendered 10 runs or more in five of those six defeats.

Carl Pavano was responsible for one of those poor outings, with the usually- steady veteran tagged for seven runs and 11 hits -- three of which were homers -- in just four innings in a no-decision at Detroit last Saturday. He also served up three long balls in a September 16 victory over the White Sox, a game in which he surrendered five runs in five frames.

Pavano has been good more often than not for the Twins this year, however, having compiled a 17-11 record with a 3.83 ERA in 31 starts. Minnesota's Game 2 starter for next week's AL Division Series, the right-hander can match a career high for wins set with Florida in 2004 in tonight's tilt.

The 34-year-old is just 3-5 with a 6.47 ERA in 11 career encounters with the Blue Jays, though, and has been reached for 12 runs and 18 hits in a combined 10 1/3 innings over two previous starts against Toronto this season, one a loss and the other a no-decision.

Pavano gave up five homers in those two appearances and faces a Blue Jays club that leads all of baseball with a franchise-record 253 round-trippers. Toronto belted six more in last night's 13-2 shellacking of the Twins, with major league home run leader Jose Bautista adding two more to his impressive total.

Bautista socked a grand slam in the seventh inning and added a solo shot in his final at-bat to give him 54 homers on the year, the most in a season since the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez had the same amount in 2007.

"I've made some changes to my approach," said Bautista, who had never hit more than 16 homers in a season prior to 2010, in explaining his breakout year. "I started getting ready earlier in the pitcher's delivery and that has allowed me to pick up the ball better and lay off bad pitches."

Edwin Encarnacion also homered twice for Toronto as part of a 3-for-4, three- RBI night, with Travis Snider and Jose Molina also going deep in the rout. Snider finished with three hits and two RBI to help the Jays prevail for the seventh time in eight games.

Making his final start in preparation for Wednesday's Game 1 of the ALDS, Minnesota's Francisco Liriano (14-10) was rocked for five runs and allowed three of Toronto's six homers before exiting after 5 1/3 innings.

The Twins mustered only four hits total on the evening, with 2009 AL MVP Joe Mauer going 0-for-4 as the designated hitter in his first action since September 19. The All-Star catcher had been sidelined with inflammation in his left knee.

Thursday's loss kept the Twins one game behind AL East co-leaders Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees in the race for the best record in the Junior Circuit.

"Every team goes through one of these [losing stretches], we just happen to be going through ours now,' said Minnesota catcher Drew Butera. "It's just one of those things."

Ricky Romero will try to keep the Twins down and establish a career high for wins when the Toronto hurler takes the mound tonight. The young lefty is 13-9 with a respectable 3.79 ERA in 31 starts for the year and comes in having won six of his past eight decisions.

Romero was a bit shaky in his most recent assignment, though, walking five batters and allowing three runs in five innings while not factoring in the decision of last Saturday's game against Baltimore.

The former first-round pick also posted a 13-9 record during his rookie campaign of 2009 and faced the Twins twice that season, going 1-0 with a 3.07 ERA in those contests.

The Blue Jays have won four of six meetings between these teams this year and have fared very well in Minneapolis as of late, having won seven of eight games as the visitor in this series since the start of the 2008 season.

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