The Minnesota Twins have built a surprise playoff contender this season around consistent pitching, timely hitting and a strong record at the Metrodome.
If they’re going to stay in the race over the next two weeks, one of those factors isn’t going to help them.
The Twins begin their longest road trip in nearly 40 years on Thursday with the first of four against the Los Angeles Angels, who regained the best record in the AL in time to start their 11-game homestand.
The first three legs of the trip look like a normal West Coast trip for Minnesota, which plays three at Seattle and four at Oakland after leaving Anaheim.
But with the Republican National Convention coming to the Twin Cities from Sept. 1-4, the Twins remain out of town, heading to Toronto for three games to close the 14-game trip. It’s their longest since a 15-game journey from Aug. 4-20, 1969.
The Twins (72-54) are 46-23 at home this year - going 30-9 there since June 1 - as opposed to a 26-31 overall road mark.
“At the end, it’s 81 and 81,” closer Joe Nathan said. “This is just a longer stretch of it. I don’t think anybody’s concerned too much about it. Most of the talk here in the clubhouse was just making sure we had enough underwear.”
With a .318 batting average with men in scoring position this year, Minnesota has continued to play worry-free baseball.
Wednesday’s 3-1 win over the Athletics was the Twins’ sixth in their last seven games and 17th in their last 24, as they’ve kept pace with Boston and the Chicago White Sox. They are one game back of first-place Chicago in the AL Central and a half-game behind the Red Sox for the wild card.
They will get a boost for the trip as second baseman Alexi Casilla was activated from the disabled list for Thursday’s game. Casilla, who was hitting .313 before his injury, hasn’t played since July 28 due to a thumb injury.
The Angels (77-48) will likely be a stiff test for Minnesota, especially with ace John Lackey on the hill to start the series.
Lackey (10-2, 3.22 ERA) has allowed nine home runs in six starts since the All-Star break, resulting in an uncharacteristically high 4.73 ERA, but he’s still 4-0 over that span.
The right-hander hasn’t faced Minnesota this year, but he’s just 2-4 with a 4.86 ERA in his last seven outings against the Twins.
Los Angeles had dropped five of six before Wednesday, conceding the AL lead to Tampa Bay in the process, but it avoided a sweep and leapfrogged the Rays with a 5-4 win at Tropicana Field.
“That’s what’s important for us,” center fielder Torii Hunter told the Angels’ official Web site. “Now we go home. It’s a lot of fun playing at home - outside, on grass.”
With a 15 1/2-game lead on second-place Texas, the Angels’ magic number to clinch the AL West is 21.
They haven’t faced the Twins since the first series of the season, when the Angels took three of four at the Metrodome despite losing on opening day. Minnesota went 1-5 at Anaheim last year and has dropped seven of its last eight overall against Los Angeles.
Scott Baker (7-3, 3.91) will try to reverse that trend. The right-hander hasn’t lost on the road since June 15, going 3-0 with a 4.34 ERA in his last six starts away from the Metrodome.
He hasn’t faced Los Angeles this year, but is still searching for his first career win against the Angels. He’s 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA in five starts against them.