The venue has changed, but the Atlanta Braves’ struggles in Minnesota still have not.
After squandering a lead in the late innings of their first game at Target Field, the Braves seek to bounce back against the Twins on Saturday as these first-place clubs continue their interleague series.
Atlanta (35-27) never fared well in the Metrodome - the home of the Twins (36-25) prior to this season. The Braves were 2-8 there all-time, including four losses in the seven-game 1991 World Series. Bobby Cox was still managing Atlanta, while current Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was Minnesota’s third-base coach.
“When you see the Braves, your thoughts immediately go to that,” Gardenhire said of the World Series, in which each club had finished last the previous season.
At Target Field on Friday night, the Braves struck first when Troy Glaus(notes) scored on Omar Infante’s(notes) third-inning groundout. That lead held until the seventh as Tim Hudson(notes) and Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano(notes) locked up in a pitcher’s duel, but the Twins reached Hudson for two runs on singles by Jason Kubel(notes) and Delmon Young(notes) and held on for a 2-1 victory.
For the Braves, it marked the ninth time in their 11 games at Minnesota that they scored three runs or fewer. It was also their fifth loss in seven games following a nine-game winning streak, and trimmed their NL East lead to 1 1/2 games over the New York Mets.
Despite the outcome, Cox was able to appreciate the show put on by Liriano and Hudson.
“It was great to watch, to be honest with you,” he said. “Two outstanding pitchers going at it.”
This contest appears unlikely to match the series opener for pitching excellence. Atlanta starter Derek Lowe(notes) (8-5, 5.04 ERA) and Minnesota’s Nick Blackburn(notes) (6-3, 5.21) are both coming off dreadful outings.
Lowe gave up seven runs, eight hits and two walks in a season-low four innings Monday as the Braves lost 7-4 at Arizona. It ended a three-start winning streak for the sinkerballer, who had posted a 1.80 ERA during that run.
Lowe’s task doesn’t figure to get any easier Saturday. He’s 0-4 with an 8.31 ERA and a .345 opponent batting average in six career starts versus the Twins. Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer(notes) is 5 for 7 against the right-hander, while first baseman Justin Morneau(notes) is 4 for 9 with a homer.
Blackburn has never faced the Braves, but is trying to avoid a third consecutive unimpressive loss. He’s given up five runs and 10 hits in each of his last two outings, lasting 3 1-3 innings of a 7-1 loss June 1 at Seattle before getting knocked out after 2 2-3 innings in Sunday’s 5-4 defeat in Oakland.
The right-hander has fared much better at Target Field, where he’s 4-0 with a 3.31 ERA in five starts - all Minnesota victories.
The Twins have won five of seven, and with a 4 1/2-game cushion over Detroit in the AL Central, are the only team in the majors leading its division by two games or more.