Minnesota beat Detroit 5-3 in Friday’s series opener for its fourth straight win against the Tigers. The Twins have won seven of their last nine games against the defending AL champions after a 2-9 stretch against them to start the 2006 season.
Minnesota took three of four from them Sept. 7-10 last season, part of a rally from 12 1/2 games back in the AL Central to pass Detroit and take the division in the final day of the season.
On Friday, reigning AL batting champion Joe Mauer’s two-run pinch-hit single capped a four-run eighth inning and Justin Morneau homered for the Twins (13-10), who have run two in a row since losing four straight.
“This is a really big win for us,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Our guys grind, just like those guys grind. They come back and win ballgames, just like we do.
“Tonight we got the best of them at the end, and I expect it to be a battle all year.”
Despite their recent success against Detroit (12-10), the Twins have been unable to figure out Justin Verlander, who starts Saturday for the Tigers. Verlander (1-0, 2.08 ERA) won all three of his starts against Minnesota as a rookie last season, giving up just two runs in 22.0 total innings for a 0.82 ERA.
Verlander’s only other start against Minnesota came on July 23, 2005, when he allowed five runs in six innings of a 5-2 defeat in his second major league start.
The 24-year-old right-hander allowed three runs in seven innings of the Tigers’ 12-inning, 6-5 win over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday. He has allowed six runs in 13 innings in his last two starts after giving up just one unearned runs in 13 frames in his first two.
The Tigers have dropped five of their last eight games overall. Their bullpen continued to falter on Friday, falling to 6-8 with a 5.14 ERA. Joel Zumaya, who was charged with the loss, has allowed six runs in his last four outings.
“Our bullpen is struggling right now, there is no doubt about that,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “But we know we have good pitchers out there, and we know that we’re not hitting, which leads to a lot of close games.”
The Tigers will try to bounce back against Minnesota starter Carlos Silva (1-1, 2.74), who lasted five innings and gave up three runs in the Twins’ 12-inning, 7-3 loss to Cleveland on Monday. Silva, who was 11-15 with a 5.94 ERA last season, had allowed just four runs in 18 innings in his first three starts.
The right-hander is 3-3 with a 4.97 ERA in 10 career appearances, including nine starts, against the Tigers. In his last start versus Detroit on April 29 last season, Silva was pounded for nine runs in 2 2-3 innings and charged with the 18-1 loss.
Verlander earned the win for Detroit in that contest, allowing one run in seven innings.