The Minnesota Twins remain in fourth place in the AL Central, but the two-time defending division champions are keeping plenty of pressure on the clubs in front of them.
The Twins look to win their fifth consecutive series Sunday when they close a four-game set against the Kansas City Royals.
Trailing division-leading Cleveland by 16 1/2 games on June 1, Minnesota (43-49) has won 26 of 38 to trim that deficit to six. The Twins have lost just three times in their last 16 divisional games and have moved within five of Detroit and two of the Chicago White Sox.
“When you put yourself in a hole, that mountain when you’re standing at the bottom of it, it looks like it never ends,” All-Star first baseman Michael Cuddyer(notes) said after delivering a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning of Saturday’s 4-3 victory. “But when you’re climbing and taking every step, that next step looks closer.”
Winner of 15 of 19 overall at Target Field and 13 of 17 at home versus Kansas City, Minnesota has a good chance to improve both of those marks with Brian Duensing(notes) (6-7, 4.13 ERA) taking the ball Sunday.
Since going 0-5 with a 7.28 ERA in six starts from April 30 through the end of May, the left-hander is 4-2 with a 2.47 ERA in seven outings.
“I’m getting there. I don’t think I’m quite there yet,” Duensing said July 9 after throwing seven innings of two-run ball in a 4-3 road loss to the White Sox. “I’m just starting to find a little bit of a rhythm, repeating my delivery. That goes a long way. So far, things have been going well. Hopefully they continue in the second half.”
Duensing, 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his last three home starts, is 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA lifetime against Kansas City. He’s faced the Royals three times in 2011, going 1-1 with a 1.71 ERA.
After failing to win two straight at Target Field for the first time Saturday, the Royals (38-56), 14-29 on the road, will go for a series split with Felipe Paulino(notes) (1-2, 3.38) trying to build off his first win in 13 months.
The right-hander, acquired from Colorado on May 26 after opening the season 0-4, struck out nine and gave up three runs over six innings in a 5-3 road win over the White Sox on July 5.
“I’ve worked so hard for this opportunity that Kansas City gave me,” said Paulino, who earned his first victory since June 4, 2010, with Houston.
This will be the first time Paulino faces the Twins.
He should be careful pitching to Delmon Young(notes), who is 7 for 12 with four doubles in this series after missing 14 games heading into the All-Star break with a sprained right ankle. Young is hitting .342 (13 for 38) off Kansas City pitching in 2011.
Rookie first baseman Eric Hosmer(notes) has also fared well in this matchup, going 9 for 28. After hitting a two-run homer off Matt Capps(notes) in the ninth inning Friday to help Kansas City win 2-1 and snap a five-game skid to Minnesota, Hosmer extended his hitting streak against the Twins to seven Saturday with a ninth-inning single off new closer Joe Nathan(notes).
Minnesota is 10-4 at home against Kansas City since Target Field opened last season.