Despite being in third place in their division, the defending AL Central champion Minnesota Twins believe they can repeat their impressive comeback from last season. To do that, they’ll once again have to get past the Detroit Tigers.
Detroit and Minnesota open a three-game series at the Metrodome on Tuesday as the Twins try to make a move on the first-place Tigers.
“We’ve got the big boys coming in now in our division, Detroit, and we know how tough they are,” manger Ron Gardenhire told the Twins’ official Web site. “We know how good they are as a baseball team, so we have to continue to try to do the little things and get runs in when we need to and pitch. It’s all going to get down to the pitching.”
Minnesota (49-43) is trying to further the momentum gained after opening the second half of the season with a four-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics. The Twins starters had a 2.77 ERA over the set, and they outscored the Athletics 19-11.
Minnesota trails Detroit (54-36) by six games in the AL Central. The Twins, however, only have to look to last season, when they won the division after trailing by 11 games at the All-Star break for some added inspiration.
Gardenhire’s team won six of 10 games against the Tigers in the second half of the season.
“We don’t want to talk about last year, but at the same time, we did learn a lot last year,” right fielder Michael Cuddyer said. “We learned that we can be patient and we don’t have to worry about anything. Just go out and play baseball, and that’s why you play another 70 games or so in the second half.”
The Twins face a Tigers team that split a four-game series with the Seattle Mariners over the weekend. Detroit, which is also trying to hold off the Cleveland Indians in the Central, is 16-7 since June 17.
Gary Sheffield looks to continue his impressive hitting this week after going 2-for-3 on Sunday with a double and two runs scored. He also stole two bases, including home in the sixth inning.
“He’s got such great instincts,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Sheffield. “He see it. He smells things.”
The designated hitter hit .467 (7-for-15) against the Mariners, and is batting .462 (18-for-39) with four homers and 10 RBIs in 10 games in July.
Sheffield will be facing Minnesota’s Matt Garza (1-0, 0.00 ERA), who takes the mound Tuesday for the third time this season and second as a starter.
Garza was called up in late June and made one relief appearance on July 2 against the New York Yankees before starting four days later against the Chicago White Sox. He pitched six scoreless innings, allowing five hits and striking out six in the 12-0 win.
Garza, who made 10 appearances in 2006, has made one start against the Tigers. The 23-year-old right-hander lasted 4 1-3 innings, allowing four runs and five hits before leaving without a decision in Minnesota’s 9-5 win on Sept. 8.
Nate Robertson (5-6, 4.92) will counter for Detroit. The struggling left-hander snapped a five-start winless streak on July 8 against the Boston Red Sox, giving up four runs and four hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 6-5 win. Two of the four hits were home runs, and he also walked four.
Robertson is 5-7 with a 4.28 ERA in 15 starts and one relief appearance against the Twins. This is his second time facing them this season. He was reached for three runs and five hits in seven innings of a 5-3 loss on April 27, and did not factor in the decision.
The Twins have a slight 5-4 edge over the Tigers in the season series, but have won 14 of the last 22 meetings at the Metrodome since the 2005 season.