Losers of five of their last six but still in the thick of the AL Central race, the Twins seek to continue their mastery of the Royals when the division rivals open a three-game series Tuesday night at the Metrodome.
Minnesota (78-65) is only 2 1/2 games behind Chicago for the Central lead, but has hit a rough patch at an inopportune time, with a 4-11 record since Aug. 23. After suffering a three-game sweep at Toronto, the Twins dropped two of three at home to Detroit over the weekend, culminating in a 7-5 loss Sunday.
“We can’t be tired right now,” outfielder Denard Span said. “You’ve got (19) games left, we’re fighting for a pennant race. There’s no excuses. I don’t think nobody in here would say they’re tired right now. It’s a long season, but this is for everything.”
First baseman Justin Morneau had a triple and four RBIs while Span went 2-for-4 with three runs Sunday, but it wasn’t enough as Minnesota’s pitching staff yielded at least seven runs for the third time in six games.
“We’ve got to get back to playing our kind of baseball, consistent baseball,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’re where we want to be in a playoff race, but we’ve got to play better baseball.”
The Twins have played quite well against the Royals (61-81) in 2008, winning nine of 12 meetings and all four series between the clubs. They’ll host Kansas City for another three games Sept. 26-28 to conclude the regular season.
Minnesota may also benefit Tuesday from facing a starting pitcher who hasn’t won since June 23. Kansas City’s Brian Bannister (7-14, 5.56) is 0-8 with a 7.25 ERA in 12 starts since defeating Colorado on that date, and the right-hander hasn’t beaten an AL club since a 6-1 victory over Cleveland on June 1.
Bannister did pitch effectively against Oakland last Thursday, when only one of his four runs allowed were earned in seven innings. Kansas City won 5-4 in 10 innings.
Bannister enjoyed one of his finest outings against Minnesota on April 13, yielding one unearned run and three hits in a complete-game effort as the Royals won 5-1. He is 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA in five career starts versus the Twins.
Minnesota rookie Nick Blackburn (9-8, 3.71) has yet to pitch a complete game in his 28 starts, but he came within two outs of doing so at Kansas City on May 27. The right-hander limited the Royals to two runs and eight hits without a walk in 8 1-3 innings of that game - his only career start versus Kansas City - which the Twins won 4-3 in 12 innings.
Blackburn is 0-2 over his last five starts despite yielding no more than three earned runs in any of his last four. He gave up three runs - two earned - over 6 2-3 innings of Minnesota’s 5-4, 11-inning loss at Toronto on Wednesday.
Kansas City lost two of three at home to Cleveland over the weekend, capped by a 3-1 defeat Sunday. The Royals have dropped 10 of their last 12 on the road and haven’t won a series away from Kauffman Stadium since a three-game sweep of Oakland from July 28-30.