The Minnesota Twins are inching closer to first place in the AL Central, but a major challenge stands in their way of getting there.
With a chance to possibly move into a tie for the division lead, the Twins hope to get the best of Kansas City’s Cy Young Award candidate Zack Greinke(notes) when they face the Royals on Saturday at the Metrodome.
The victory came soon after first-place Detroit lost 8-0 to Chicago, allowing the Twins to move within one game of the Tigers with two to play. A Minnesota victory and Detroit loss Saturday night will create a tie atop the division standings.
“We’ve been playing catchup for a long time here, and it’s not easy,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, whose team split a four-game set at Detroit this week. “Every day is a must-win, it seems like.”
While this was scheduled to be the Twins’ final regular-season series at the Metrodome before they move to new outdoor Target Field in 2010, the dome would play host to a one-game playoff Tuesday.
Before Minnesota can think about anything past this weekend, however, it must get by Greinke (16-8, 2.06 ERA), the major-league leader in ERA who’ll be trying for a sixth straight victory.
“He’s the guy for me. It’s a no-brainer for me,” Royals manager Trey Hillman said of Greinke’s chances of winning his first Cy Young. “If anybody is going to evaluate it fairly, just look at the statistics.”
While Greinke is 2-4 with a 3.69 ERA in 10 starts against the Twins, he allowed one run and struck out eight in seven innings of a 4-1 win Sunday in his only start versus Minnesota this season.
The right-hander is 5-0 with a 0.72 ERA in his last seven starts since losing at Chicago on Aug. 19.
“Go to church and pray that we can score some runs,” Young said of how to beat Greinke. “He’s nasty. … He’s going to try to go nine.”
Young is 2 for 8 with a homer against Greinke, but had five RBIs on Friday and is 10 for 23 in his last six games. He has three home runs and 13 RBIs this season against the Royals (65-95), who’ve lost seven of nine, but nearly rallied back from a 10-0 deficit Friday.
Last year, the Royals won two of three at Minnesota on the season’s final weekend to force the Twins into a tiebreaker game they lost to the White Sox.
While Minnesota’s Nick Blackburn(notes) (11-11, 4.08) tries to avoid losing a third time to Kansas City this season when he takes the ball, he’ll look for a third straight victory overall while trying to set a career high for wins.
Blackburn is 1-2 with a 3.90 ERA in five career starts versus Royals, including 0-2 with a 5.52 ERA in three this season.
The right-hander, though, is 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA in his last three starts after giving up one run in seven innings of a 3-2, 10-inning win at Detroit on Tuesday.
Maier is 3 for 8 against Blackburn.