(Sports Network) - The Minnesota Twins have hardly resembled a team heading to the playoffs since claiming the American League Central title. The suddenly-slumping club will attempt to end a season-high losing streak and avert a three-game sweep at the hands of the lowly Kansas City Royals when the divisional foes square off again tonight at Kauffman Stadium.
The Twins were handed a fifth straight defeat with last night's 10-1 trouncing by the Royals, giving Ron Gardenhire's squad its longest skid since a six-game slide from May 15-20, 2009.
Minnesota was once again plagued by poor pitching, as starter Nick Blackburn (10-11) was battered for eight runs and eight hits before exiting after only 4 1/3 innings. The Twins have given up 10 runs or more in four of their five losses during the streak, and their starters have produced a horrid 12.81 earned run average over that stretch.
"We are getting whacked around," stated Gardenhire. "These guys (the Royals) are swinging and having a ball. This trip has been like that. Every game."
Kila Ka'aihue led Kansas City's offensive barrage by going 3-for-3 with a pair of homers and four RBI. Josh Fields added a two-run blast later on for the Royals, while Mike Aviles finished 3-for-4 with an RBI double and ended a homer short of hitting for the cycle.
Sean O'Sulivan (4-6) did his part on the mound for Kansas City, with the young right-hander working around six walks to hold the Twins to one run in a six- inning stint.
The Royals will be shooting for their first series sweep at home since September 8-10, 2009 and haven't blanked the Twins in a three-game set held in Kansas City since July 29-31, 1994.
Luke Hochevar tries to get his team to accomplish both feats when he toes the rubber in tonight's finale. The former No. 1 overall draft choice will be making his fourth start since returning from an elbow strain that sidelined him for two months and is 1-2 with a 4.74 ERA following his reinstatement from the disabled list.
Hochevar is coming off a loss at Cleveland on Friday in which he was reached for four runs and eight hits in five innings. The right-hander was better in his previous outing, limiting the Indians to three runs through six frames to help the Royals to a 6-4 win at Kauffman Stadium on September 19.
The 27-year-old's first start since coming back from his injury took place against the Twins in Kansas City. He lasted only three innings in that September 7 matchup, though, and permitted three runs on five hits.
Minnesota, which stands two games back of East-leading Tampa Bay in the battle to obtain home-field advantage throughout the upcoming AL Playoffs, will send out Scott Baker this evening. Like Hochevar, he too missed some time with an elbow problem, having sat out close to three weeks with tendinitis before returning to action on September 21.
Baker pitched five innings against Cleveland in his first start off the layoff, yielding two runs -- one earned -- and striking out seven batters in a no-decision.
The right-hander is competing for a spot as a long reliever on the Twins' postseason roster, probably with fellow rotation member Kevin Slowey, who was tagged for six runs in 1 2/3 innings of Monday's loss to the Royals.
Baker, a 15-game winner for Minnesota last season who's 12-9 thus far in 2010, owns an 8-4 record with a 3.44 ERA in 14 career starts against Kansas City. In six trips to the Kauffman Stadium mound, he's gone 3-1 with a 3.32 ERA.
The 29-year-old will have to make do without several key members of his team's lineup tonight, as All-Star catcher Joe Mauer (sore knee), designated hitter Jim Thome (back) and shortstop J.J. Hardy (knee) are all not expected to play.
Kansas City halted a string of six straight losses to Minnesota with Monday's result, but have still lost 12 of 17 matchups between the teams this year. The Twins are 5-3 at Kauffman Stadium this season and 19-7 on the road against the Royals since the start of the 2008 campaign.