“It’s going to be tough because they are pumped up, just like us,” Hunter said. “We can’t think of sweeping them. That would be great, but we’ve got to take two of three.”
Armed with a half-game lead in the division, the Twins open a three-game series with the second-place White Sox at The Metrodome in a series that could ultimately determine which team reached the postseason.
The Twins garnered their half-game lead over the idle White Sox with Monday’s 13-6 rout of the Cleveland Indians.
Hunter tied his career high with five RBIs as Minnesota moved into sole possession of first place for the first time since June 30.
Minnesota has won three in a row and completed an important eight-game road trip at 5-3. The Twins split a four-game set with the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field to kick off the trip.
“Mission accomplished. We’re going home with the lead,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’ll see what happens now. This is where you want to be, in the pennant race at the end. We’re excited.”
The White Sox took two of three from the Boston Red Sox, including Sunday’s 7-2 win. Carlos Lee went 2-for-4 with a homer, three RBIs and two runs scored, but injured his foot late in Sunday’s game. He expects to play against Minnesota.
“It feels better,” Lee said.
The White Sox used Monday’s off day, their last one during the regular season, to prepare for the big series.
“Take a deep breath, inhale, exhale, go to the Metrodome,” White Sox manager Jerry Manuel said. “I figure we’ve got another good streak left in us.”
STANDINGS: White Sox - 2nd place, 1/2 GB, AL Central. Twins - 1st place, AL Central.
WHITE SOX PROBABLE STARTER: Esteban Loaiza (19-7, 2.73 ERA). Loaiza was denied in his first attempt to reach the 20-win plateau, suffering a 5-2 loss to the Twins on Thursday. The right-hander allowed five runs and seven hits over seven innings, striking out nine and walking one in the series finale. Despite the loss, Loaiza is 8-2 with a 3.63 ERA in 11 starts since the All-Star break to remain among the favorites to win the AL Cy Young Award. In 19 career appearances against the Twins, including 16 starts, Loaiza is 9-6 with a 3.38 ERA.
TWINS PROBABLE STARTER: Brad Radke (12-10, 4.79 ERA). Radke is 4-0 with a 3.43 ERA over his last five starts. The veteran right-hander is coming off one of his best outings of the season, tossing a nine-hitter in Thursday’s win over Loaiza and the White Sox. He struck out five without issuing a walk in his third complete game of the season and 33rd of his career. Radke is 11-10 with a 4.66 ERA and two complete games in 24 career starts against the White Sox.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: White Sox - Magglio Ordonez, .324 avg.; Frank Thomas, 40 HRs; Lee, 104 RBIs, 91 runs and 18 SBs. Twins - Shannon Stewart, .312 avg. and 84 runs; Hunter, 26 HRs and 99 RBIs; Cristian Guzman, 16 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: White Sox, 9-7.
STREAKS AND NOTES: White Sox - OF Ordonez is hitting .412 in 51 career at-bats against RHP Radke with five doubles, two homers and seven RBIs. … OF Lee went 5-for-12 with two home runs, four RBI and four runs scored in the three-game series with the Red Sox. He his hitting .418 (28-for-67) with 10 multi-hit efforts in his last 17 games and is hitting .343 (84-for-245) with 16 home runs and 53 RBI in his last 58 games. … C Sandy Alomar Jr. is batting .344 (11-for-32) in his last 10 games. … Twins - OF Hunter is hitting .387 in 31 career at-bats against RHP Loaiza with two doubles, three triples, two homers and four RBIs. … The Twins have scored four or more runs in 14 of their last 19 games. … Minnesota is 7-0-2 in its last nine series since dropping three of four to Cleveland from July 3-6.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: White Sox - 32-42 on the road; Twins - 40-33 at home.