Minnesota (82-70) at Tampa Bay (90-60)

Fair Currently: St. Petersburg, FL
Temp: 88° F
  • Game info: 7:10 pm EDT Thu Sep 18, 2008
  • TV: FSNO
Preview | Box Score | Recap

While the Tampa Bay Rays’ season is already a remarkable one, they won’t be content even when they clinch the franchise’s first playoff berth.

Tampa Bay looks to take another step toward reaching that goal on Thursday when they open a four-game series with the slumping Minnesota Twins, who are trying to regain momentum in the AL Central race.

The Rays (90-60) moved closer to securing a playoff spot this week, winning two of three against the second-place Boston Red Sox, including a 10-3 win on Wednesday, to take a two-game lead in the AL East.

Willy Aybar, Gabe Gross and Fernando Perez all homered in Wednesday’s victory.

“This team is built on solid pitching and unity,” Perez said. “Nobody sticks out. To see us win a game, everybody comes in and does something. We don’t have the personalities that stand in the way of that.”

The Rays became the sixth team in major league history to win 90 games immediately following a stretch of at least 10 consecutive losing seasons. The others are the 1912 Washington Senators, 1914 Boston Braves, 1956 Cincinnati Reds, 1979 Montreal Expos and 2006 Detroit Tigers.

Tampa Bay can clinch at least a wild-card berth with two wins over the Twins (82-70) during this series. The Rays and Twins split a two-game set at the Metrodome in April and Tampa Bay has lost 11 of its last 16 home games against the Twins, although it’s won three of the last four.

While making the playoffs would be considered a giant leap for the franchise, which never won more than 70 games prior to this season, manager Joe Maddon said that isn’t enough for Tampa Bay.

“Our focus has always been the to win the East. … Regardless of what happens over the next couple of days, I want our focus to be that,” Maddon said. “At the end of this regular season, it’s about moving forward with home-field advantage. You look at our record at home, and we want to play as many games as possible here.”

Minnesota, meanwhile, comes in trying to regroup after losing four in a row and being swept in a three-game series at Cleveland. The Twins closed the set with a 6-4 loss on Wednesday.

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau each had three hits as the Twins rallied to tie the game in the seventh inning before another meltdown by their relievers. Minnesota’s bullpen, which is responsible for 10 of the club’s last 16 losses, gave up two runs in the bottom half.

Despite the slump, the Twins remain just 2 1/2 games out of first place in the AL Central. Minnesota faces the division-leading Chicago White Sox in a three-game series at the Metrodome beginning Sept. 23.

“It’s just so frustrating,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “What we’re doing is just not enough. Now we go play one of the hottest teams (Tampa Bay) and that’s another big challenge.”

Gardenhire hands the ball Thursday to Glen Perkins (12-4, 4.40 ERA).

Perkins pitched three innings Saturday against Baltimore, allowing six runs in a 12-6 win. The left-hander is winless in his last three starts.

Perkins is making his first start against the Rays after making three relief appearances against them last season. He allowed three runs and four hits over 5 2-3 combined innings in those outings.

James Shields (13-8, 3.50) counters for Tampa Bay.

Shields pitched eight scoreless innings against the Yankees on Saturday, allowing five hits while striking out six in the 7-1 win. Shields is 4-1 with a 3.07 ERA in his last eight starts.

The right-hander is 1-1 with a 5.94 ERA in three career starts against the Twins. He allowed five runs—three earned—over five innings of a 6-5 loss on April 16 against them, but did not factor in the decision.

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Starting Pitchers

G. Perkins Min vs. J. Shields KC
12-4 Record 14-8
4.41 ERA 3.56
74 K 160
39 BB 40
1.47 WHIP 1.15

Scoreboard

Thursday, Sep 18