After wrapping up the AL Central, the Minnesota Twins have turned their focus to securing home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs.
They’d also like to see their No. 1 starter in good form before they get there.
Francisco Liriano(notes) will be on the mound for Minnesota when the postseason begins, but he’ll be concentrating on bouncing back from his first loss of the second half when the Twins face the Detroit Tigers on Friday night.
A win Tuesday and a loss by Chicago gave Minnesota (92-60) its second consecutive division title, but manager Ron Gardenhire’s club still has plenty to play for.
The Twins are in a tight competition with New York and Tampa Bay for the AL’s best record, and considering they’re a league-best 52-25 at Target Field after beating Cleveland 5-1 on Wednesday, Gardenhire plans to do everything he can to get the edge.
“With home-field advantage still at stake, these guys are going to play,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who I put out there, you’re going to get a great effort. That’s the way is around here.”
Gardenhire may not have Joe Mauer(notes) for a fourth straight game Friday as the catcher recovers from a sore left knee, but the manager will have his best pitcher on the hill at Comerica Park. Gardenhire announced Wednesday that Liriano (14-8, 3.44 ERA) will start the Twins’ playoff opener.
“He’s been winging it pretty good,” Gardenhire told the team’s official website. “With his electric stuff, if he gets on a roll he can dominate a team.”
The AL has seen plenty of evidence of that in the second half. Liriano entered his Sunday start against Oakland with an 8-0 mark and 2.41 ERA since the All-Star break.
Minnesota was 10-1 in his 11 second-half outings, but the A’s finally handed Liriano a loss. The left-hander gave up five runs over five innings in a 6-2 defeat.
“I was getting behind in the count. I think it was one of those days I didn’t have my location,” Liriano said. “I didn’t have much luck today.”
Liriano has had good and bad luck in four starts against the Tigers this season. He struck out 10 over eight innings of a 2-0 road win April 27 and tossed seven scoreless innings in a 2-1 home victory Sept. 1, but went 0-2 with a 15.26 ERA in between. He was chased after giving up seven runs over 1 2-3 innings in a 7-3 loss July 9 at Comerica.
The Tigers (77-75) won for the fifth time in six games Wednesday, 4-2 over Kansas City, and they’ll have the right pitcher on the mound as they try to continue their push to finish above .500. Justin Verlander(notes) (17-8, 3.46) is 4-0 with a 2.35 ERA in his last six starts and went the distance in a 6-3 win over the White Sox on Saturday.
Verlander’s 82 victories since the start of 2006 are third most in the majors.
“The thing I’m most proud of is getting wins for the team,” Verlander said. “Wins (are) not a singular stat. It’s probably the most team-oriented stat there is. You get that many wins in that many years, it has a whole lot to do with the guys playing behind me.”