Heading into their final regular-season series, the Minnesota Twins’ drive to stand alone atop the AL Central standings is nearly complete.
After a thrilling extra-inning win, Minnesota looks to move into sole possession of the top spot Friday when it meets Chicago White Sox in the start of a three-game series.
With just three games remaining in the regular season, the Twins (95-64) moved into a tie for the division lead with a 2-1, 10-inning win Thursday over Kansas City.
“Who would have thought?” said Mauer, a former high school star from St. Paul, Minn.
Jason Bartlett’s bases-loaded single past a drawn-in outfield lifted Minnesota into a share of first place with Detroit, which lost to Toronto 8-6 on Thursday afternoon. The Twins were a season-worst 12 1/2 games out of first place on May 27.
Before Thursday’s win, the Twins haven’t had a share of first place since April 17, 2005—when it was tied with the eventual World Series champion White Sox 12 games into the season.
The playoff-bound Twins, though, may have a difficult time trying to win its fourth division title in five years. While Minnesota meets Chicago (88-71), the Tigers will close the regular season with three games against the Royals, who’ve lost 100 games each of the last three years.
Rookie Boof Bonser (7-5, 4.15 ERA) will start the first game for Minnesota. The right-hander has responded to the pressure of a playoff race, allowing only three runs and nine hits in 13 2-3 innings while winning his previous two starts.
He had his best outing of the season Monday in an 8-1 playoff-clinching win over Kansas City.
“Everything is finally coming through,” said Bonser, who didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning and gave up only two through 6 2-3 innings. “I can’t say it’s just me, because it’s the guys behind me. They’re hitting the ball and playing defense. That’s it right there.
“It’s all about the Twins. It’s not just one guy. It’s everybody.”
A strong Septemeber, combined with a season-ending injury to fellow rookie Francisco Liriano and uncertainty regarding Brad Radke’s shoulder, has likely pushed Bonser to second in the playoff rotation behind Cy Young favorite Johan Santana.
Bonser is 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA and .200 opponent batting average this month. In 32 2-3 innings, he struck out 27 while walking just seven.
He failed to record a decision in his only start this season against the White Sox, giving up three runs and six hits over 5 1-3 innings of Minnesota’s 7-3 victory on Aug. 18.
Making his final start of the year, Chicago’s Freddy Garcia (16-9, 4.65) will try to end strongly heading into 2007. In winning his three previous starts, the right-hander has yielded four runs and 10 hits with a .130 opponent batting average in 22 2-3 innings.
After two straight one-hit efforts, Garcia’s worst outing came Sunday in a 12-7 win over Seattle during Chicago’s regular-season home finale. He gave up four runs and eight hits over 6 2-3 innings, but was disappointed the White Sox would not get the chance to defend their title.
“It’s all about going to the playoffs,” said Garcia, who is 2-1 with a 4.58 ERA in three starts this season against Minnesota. “For me, it’s not a bad season. I should have pitched a little better.”
With a win, Garcia will tie Jon Garland—who will make his final start Saturday—for the team lead.
Chicago salvaged the finale of a three-game series with Cleveland by beating the Indians 2-1 on Wednesday in a game shortened to eight innings by rain.