The Minnesota Twins will have their ace on the mound as they aim for their longest winning streak since the season he won the AL Cy Young Award.
“We’ve got guys who can hit home runs,” said Twins manager Rod Gardenhire, whose club ranks last in the AL with 60 home runs despite the three-homer night. “We’re known for slapping the ball around and beating the ball around, but we’ve been swinging the bats a lot better lately. We’ve hit some grand slams and we’re taking better at-bats with runners in scoring position, all those things.”
Kubel’s homer was his fourth in five games, a run which began with a 12th-inning grand slam to defeat Boston in Santana’s last start Tuesday night. Santana (6-4, 2.99 ERA) limited the Red Sox to one run and five hits in eight innings while striking out a season-high 13, but did not receive a decision in a pitcher’s duel with Boston ace Curt Schilling.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in the game, there’s no doubt,” Santana said of Schilling, who finished second to the Twins left-hander in the 2004 Cy Young balloting. “I always get excited to face a guy like that. But at the same time, they have to face me and our team.”
Facing Santana has been an unenviable task lately, as he is 6-1 with a 2.38 ERA in his last 10 starts after opening the season 0-3. He has 86 strikeouts in 72 innings over the last 10 outings while walking only seven—no more than one in any start.
Minnesota is seeking its longest winning streak since a nine-game run from Sept. 7-16, 2004. Santana threw 14 shutout innings to earn two victories during that streak.
Santana will be making his first career start against the Pirates. He threw one scoreless inning of relief when he faced Pittsburgh in 2001. Santana is 11-3 with a 2.67 ERA in interleague play.
The Pirates (26-43) send left-hander Oliver Perez (2-8, 6.68) to the mound as they try to snap their three-game skid. Perez has lost his last three starts as he continues to endure a rough season.
The left-hander pitched effectively on Tuesday against St. Louis, allowing two runs over seven innings and lowering his ERA half a run from 7.18, but was beaten by Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter in a 2-1 defeat.
“I missed on a couple of pitches, but I threw all my pitches for strikes and threw good,” said Perez, who has received no runs of support in four of his last five losses.
Perez is 4-2 with a 3.95 ERA in nine interleague starts. He has never faced the Twins.
A victory in Sunday’s series finale would get the Twins to the .500 mark for the first time since they were 7-7 on April 19. Minnesota has won eight of its last nine after falling to a season-worst 25-33.