The Texas Rangers endured a tough series in their inaugural visit to Target Field. This time, the stakes will be much higher.
The Rangers and Minnesota Twins begin a three-game series Friday night between first-place clubs also looking to gain home-field advantage in the division series.
Both clubs lead their respective divisions, with Texas (75-56) up by 10 games in the AL West and Minnesota (77-57) leading Chicago by 3 1/2 games in the Central.
The Twins hold a 4-3 lead in the season series, with the home team winning every game but one. The Rangers were 5 for 23 with runners in scoring position and outscored 16-7 in a three-game sweep in Minnesota from May 28-30.
It seems likely the winner of the AL East - New York or Tampa Bay - will gain home-field advantage throughout the AL Championship Series. That leaves Minnesota and Texas battling for the No. 2 seed, and the Twins have a 1 1/2-game lead.
Minnesota has grown very comfortable in its new home, winning 13 of 16 at Target Field. The Twins fell 10-9 in 13 innings to Detroit on Thursday.
The length of the game forced Minnesota to use Nick Blackburn(notes), who entered in the 13th inning and gave up Gerald Laird’s(notes) go-ahead homer. Blackburn was Friday’s scheduled starter, and now may pitch Sunday.
Minnesota will go with rookie right-hander Matt Fox to make his major league debut after he was selected from Triple-A Rochester. Fox is 6-9 with a 3.95 ERA in 35 appearances with 21 starts for the Red Wings.
This series pits the teams with the highest averages in the majors, with Minnesota at .278 and Texas at .275.
Hamilton sat out Wednesday’s 4-3 win at Kansas City after receiving a shot the day before in his sore right knee. He leads the majors with a .361 average, although he’s 5 for 24 against the Twins this year.
Kinsler was activated off the disabled list Wednesday, and has not played since July 27 due to a strained left groin muscle. The second baseman will start Friday, although he says he will not be at full strength until 2011.
“I’m good enough to be on the field,” Kinsler said. “I don’t feel like I did when I was 16, but I’m good enough to be out there. I feel it a little bit in my legs and a little bit in my ankles. I don’t really feel like I can be as explosive out there.”
With Rich Harden(notes) demoted to the bullpen, Derek Holland(notes) (2-2, 4.76 ERA) will start in his place Friday. Holland allowed one run in 4 2-3 innings of relief of Harden on Saturday in a 5-0 loss to Oakland.
The left-hander gave up three runs over one-plus innings May 30 to lose 6-3 at Minnesota, heading to the DL the next day due to mild inflammation in his left rotator cuff. He’s 1-1 with a 6.10 ERA in three career starts against the Twins.