Finished with the West Coast portion of their longest road trip in more than 39 years, the Minnesota Twins are headed east.
The Twins begin the final leg of their 14-game journey Tuesday when they open a three-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays - a team that has beaten Minnesota six straight times.
Minnesota (77-60) was simply hoping to remain close in the AL Central race while playing 14 straight road games for the first time since August 1969, when they played 15 in a row in five cities.
By going 5-6 in Anaheim, Seattle and Oakland, the Twins accomplished that, remaining tied with Chicago for the division lead. Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire, however, said the trip to Toronto - a result of the Republican National Convention being held in the Twin Cities - could pose the toughest challenge of the stretch.
“Toronto is probably playing the best baseball of all the teams we’ve faced other than Anaheim,” Gardenhire told his club’s official Web site. “So three games against a very tough team at the end of that many days on the road is not easy.”
Gardenhire’s club has also had a difficult time against the Blue Jays (70-66) recently. After scoring five runs while getting swept in three games at Rogers Centre from July 23-25, 2007, the Twins were swept again at home by the Blue Jays from May 13-15 of this season.
The Twins managed 10 runs in that series, giving Toronto pitchers a 2.41 ERA during the winning streak against Minnesota. The Blue Jays lead the majors with a 3.60 ERA this season.
“Their pitching staff all year long has been very, very good,” Gardenhire said. “You don’t get a break with their pitching staff.”
Even rookie David Purcey (2-5, 5.53 ERA) is coming off a dominating effort. He struck out 11 and walked none in eight innings Wednesday at Tampa Bay, but Carlos Pena’s home run resulted in Purcey suffering a 1-0 loss in his first major league complete game.
Purcey will be the seventh straight left-hander to start against the Twins, something no team has faced since the 1991 New York Mets. Minnesota has split the first six, pounding Oakland’s Greg Smith in a 12-4 win Sunday.
Though Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are left-handed hitters, they’ve had success against lefties this year. Mauer is hitting .364 with seven of his eight home runs versus left-handers, while Morneau is at .298 against lefties and hit a three-run homer off Smith.
Morneau is second in the AL with 108 RBIs.
The Twins will also send a left-hander to the mound Tuesday, as Glen Perkins (12-3, 3.96) looks to win his fifth straight start. The rookie has pitched eight shutout innings in two of his last four outings, compiling a 2.48 ERA overall during that span.
Perkins has thrown at least six innings in each of his last 11 starts, going 8-1 with a 3.56 ERA. He allowed two runs in six innings of Minnesota’s 3-2, 11-inning loss to Toronto on May 15.
The Blue Jays begin September with very slim hopes of making the postseason, but are looking for their third straight victory after winning their final two games at Yankee Stadium.
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