The Minnesota Twins look to continue their remarkable run and keep the pressure on in the wild-card race when they send rookie phenom Francisco Liriano to the mound against the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers on Friday.
Minnesota (59-41) has won 34 of 42 since June 8 to cut what was an 11-game deficit in the wild card to a half-game.
“We’re just playing really good baseball,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, whose team was 25-33 nearly seven weeks ago. “People keep talking about the streak we’re on, but streaks don’t last two months or a month and a half.”
The Twins caught the struggling Chicago White Sox, who have led the wild-card race for most of the season, by completing a three-game sweep with a 7-4 victory Wednesday. Minnesota and Chicago are right behind the New York Yankees, who open a three-game home set against Tampa Bay on Friday night.
The Twins look to keep rolling Friday behind Liriano (12-2, 1.93 ERA), who pitched poorly against the Tigers in two relief outings this season, allowing seven runs and 11 hits in 3 2-3 innings for a 17.18 ERA.
Since being moved into the rotation, though, the rookie left-hander has become a leading contender for the Cy Young Award, going 11-2 with a 1.59 ERA in 13 starts.
The left-hander struck out 10 in only five innings of a 3-1 win over Cleveland on Sunday.
“I was throwing more fastballs, my pitches were working better, and I was throwing inside more,” said Liriano, who has given up eight total runs in his last six home starts—five of them coming against the Indians on July 13.
Minnesota is 2-7 this season against Detroit and has been outscored 64-25. In a three-game sweep from April 28-30 at Comerica Park, the Twins were outscored 33-1.
“Even when we were playing as bad as we were the first month and a half of the season, we still didn’t give up on ourselves,” Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer said. “We still played with enthusiasm. And we still knew that if we played the type of baseball we’re capable of, we could get back into things.”
“It’s fun right now. No matter where we play, it’s like the team’s playing the same way,” Silva said. “You see the same attitude, the same everything. We don’t change anything.”
While the White Sox have struggled since the All-Star break, the Twins will be taking on a surging Detroit club. The Tigers (68-33) have the best record in the major leagues, and their 30-13 mark against divisional opponents is also tops in baseball. Detroit leads the AL Central by 8 1/2 games over Minnesota and Chicago.
“We’ve just got to play. I don’t get into all that stuff,” manager Jim Leyland said after a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday gave the Tigers six wins in their last eight contests.
Justin Verlander—Detroit’s rookie phenom—struck out a career-high eight en route to his 13th win, tying him with Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling of Boston and Roy Halladay of Toronto for the major league lead.
Detroit rookie Zach Miner (6-2, 4.07) will look to avoid a third straight poor start since the All-Star break when he makes his first career appearance against Minnesota.
Miner has lasted only 6 2-3 combined innings and given up 10 earned runs in losing both of his starts since the break. In his first seven starts after being recalled in early June, the right-hander was 6-1 with a 2.57 ERA and didn’t allow more than three runs in a game.
Detroit gave Miner a five-run lead after one inning Saturday against Oakland, but he surrendered five runs in the top of the second and was pulled after a season-low 2 1-3 innings of a 9-5 loss.
Tigers shortstop Carlos Guillen is hitting .552 (16-for-29) with six doubles, two homers, 13 RBI and six runs against Minnesota this season, while right fielder Magglio Ordonez is batting .364 (12-for-33) with four homers, nine RBIs and 10 runs against the Twins.
Detroit, though, has dropped nine of its last 12 in Minnesota.