The Minnesota Twins are doing all they can and more to close the gap in the AL Central. Playing at this high a level for the next week and a half might be enough to give them a division title.
Minnesota looks to make it five straight wins and 11 in the last 12 games Saturday night when it faces the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
A postseason appearance seemed like a longshot just two weeks ago for the Twins (80-73) after their third straight loss left them 5 1/2 games behind Central-leading Detroit. Minnesota, however, has since won 10 of 11 to pull within two games of the Tigers with nine to play, including a four-game series at Comerica Park starting Monday.
“It’s hard not to glance at the scoreboard,” said second baseman Nick Punto(notes). “If anybody says they are not scoreboard watching, they are straight up lying. We have to take care of our business, but it’s human nature to look at that scoreboard.”
Despite losing first baseman Justin Morneau(notes) - the 2006 AL MVP - earlier this month to a stress fracture in his back, the Twins haven’t missed a beat, due largely to Cuddyer. The regular right fielder has six home runs and 18 RBIs in 11 games since replacing Morneau as the team’s everyday first baseman.
“Cuddyer continues,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s been huge. It’s a big pick up because of Morneau going down. He’s making the plays at first base. And the other side of it, offensively he’s really, really swinging well.”
Scott Baker(notes) (13-9, 4.43 ERA) looks to keep Minnesota rolling and win for the first time in four starts. The right-hander lasted 4 2-3 innings Sunday against Detroit, allowing four runs and eight hits in a 6-2 loss. He is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his last three starts after winning his previous seven decisions.
Baker is 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA in two starts this season against the Royals, limiting them to one run over five innings in a 2-1 road win June 30, the most recent matchup.
Billy Butler(notes) had four hits Friday and drove in all four of the Royals’ runs with two homers. Butler is hitting .448 with four homers and 11 RBIs in his past eight games, but is 1 for 19 (.053) lifetime against Baker.
“I’m just trying to help the team win,” Butler said. “The last few games is the story of our year. We beat the Red Sox the first two and then play the way did the last three (all losses). We’ve got to be more consistent than that.”
Lenny DiNardo(notes) (0-1, 8.22) makes his fourth start of the year for Kansas City. The left-hander was tagged for a career-high eight runs and 10 hits and walked six over five innings against Boston on Monday but escaped without a decision when his teammates rallied for a 12-9 victory.
DiNardo has made one start and one relief appearance against the Twins, going 0-1 with a 2.08 ERA. He hasn’t faced them since July 13, 2007, with Oakland.
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