It took their longest winning streak in almost two years to get the Minnesota Twins back to the .500 mark for the first time in two months.
Now, they’ll try to go over .500 for only the second time this season when they begin a three-game series with the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday.
Roger Clemens is expected to make his return for the Astros (36-34) in Thursday’s series finale, but for now, Houston must focus on stopping the surging Twins (34-34).
Minnesota beat Pittsburgh 8-2 on Sunday, completing a three-game sweep and giving it seven consecutive victories, its longest streak since winning nine in a row from Sept. 7-16, 2004.
The Twins were 6-5 on April 15, the only time they’ve been above .500 this season. They were 7-7 on April 19, but lost four straight after that and have been fighting the last two months to even their record.
Minnesota beat Baltimore, then swept Boston in three games before handling the Pirates over the weekend. The Twins are 5-1 in interleague play this season, with all the victories coming on the road.
“Everything right now is working pretty good, and it seems like we’ve put everything together and we’re more consistent from the starting rotation to the bullpen,” said starter Johan Santana, who is 7-1 in his last 11 starts. “It’s about being consistent in everything we do.”
The Twins are looking to sweep three straight series for the first time since Sept. 2003, when they beat the Chicago White Sox, Detroit and Cleveland as part of an 11-game winning streak.
Morneau is batting .415 (17-for-41) with five homers and 18 RBIs during his streak, and the Twins are 9-1 in that span.
“We’ve been kind of waiting for it all year,” Morneau said. “When we pitched, it didn’t seem like we hit, and when we hit it didn’t seem like we pitched. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
Brad Radke (5-7, 5.83 ERA) looks to win consecutive outings for the first time since early April when he starts for Minnesota on Tuesday. The right-hander allowed one run and five hits in six innings of an 8-1 victory over the Red Sox on Wednesday.
Radke is 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA in three starts against Houston, including a four-hit shutout on June 12, 2001, during the Twins’ last series against the Astros.
Following a stretch in which they won eight of nine games, the Astros dropped two of three at Minute Maid Park over the weekend to Kansas City, which has the worst record in baseball.
“It’s disappointing to lose to anybody, especially two of three at home where we’ve been playing our best baseball,” said Chad Qualls, who gave up a three-run homer in the ninth inning of Sunday’s 7-4 loss.
The Astros have 24 home victories and had won five of six there going into the series with the Royals.
Roy Oswalt (6-3, 3.21) looks to continue his solid season when he starts for Houston on Tuesday. The right-hander beat the Chicago Cubs 5-4 on Wednesday, allowing eight hits and three runs in six innings. It was his first victory since May 3, despite allowing a total of nine earned runs in his last five starts.
Oswalt beat the Twins 8-3 on June 14, 2001, allowing seven hits and three runs in six innings.
The Twins are 8-6 all-time against the Astros, including a 5-3 record in Houston.