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Orioles-Twins Preview

AP - Sports

It's been nearly 11 months since the last time the Baltimore Orioles visited Minnesota, and that's probably just fine with the Twins.

Jim Thome's final game in a Twins uniform was the same day as the Orioles' last visit, but he's made frequent trips back to haunt Minnesota.

Losers of 10 of 14 overall, Thome and the Orioles look to get well Monday night when they open a four-game series against the slumping Twins, whom they've defeated seven consecutive times.

Atop the AL East as recently as early June, Baltimore (46-42) is now eight games behind the Yankees as its offense scuffles. After a brief breakout in Saturday's 8-6 victory over Detroit, the Orioles reverted to recent form Sunday as Justin Verlander dominated them for eight innings of a 4-0 home defeat that was their fourth loss in five games - three of them shutouts.

Thome was the only major bright spot for Baltimore's lineup, accounting for three of the team's four hits including the only double.

If Thome's bat stays hot, it will be an all-too familiar sight for the Twins (36-52). This will be the veteran slugger's ninth game against Minnesota with his third different club since being dealt to Cleveland last August. He made the most of the first eight - five with the Indians in September and three with Philadelphia last month - going 11 for 26 (.423) with four homers and 14 RBIs.

Thome went 5 for 11 with two homers, nine RBIs and four runs scored to help the Phillies take two of three at Target Field from June 12-14.

"I've always enjoyed playing here,'' Thome said after the finale of that series. "And I've had some success here.''

So have the Orioles. Baltimore swept four games in Minnesota last Aug. 22-25, outscoring the Twins 24-4. Thome went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in the final game, and the Twins traded him later that day.

The Orioles extended their winning streak over the Twins with a three-game sweep at Camden Yards from April 6-8 to open the season. They've limited Minnesota to two runs or fewer in each of their seven consecutive victories in the series.

Chris Tillman (1-0, 0.00 ERA) will try to extend that run when he gets the ball for Baltimore on Monday. The onetime top prospect had been 7-15 with a 5.58 ERA in 36 major league starts over three seasons, but excelled in his 2012 debut July 4 at Seattle, allowing two unearned runs and two hits in 8 1-3 innings of a 4-2 victory.

"I feel like, in the past, I haven't been as confident as I am right now," Tillman told the Orioles' official website. "With what happened in my delivery, I feel like it's there for me now and I'm able to repeat it with all my pitches. I'm very confident right now, just got to keep it that way and keep working."

He'll be opposed by Scott Diamond (7-3, 2.62), who has been a bright spot for the Twins by allowing three earned runs or fewer in 10 of his 12 starts including his last three. The left-hander limited Detroit to two runs over seven innings in his last outing July 5, but failed to get a decision after the bullpen squandered a lead and Minnesota lost 7-3.

Losers of five straight, the Twins will need some strong innings out of Diamond after starters Brian Duensing and Cole De Vries combined to allow 13 runs over seven innings in the final two contests of a three-game weekend sweep to Oakland.

"Our offense is doing the job, our bullpen is doing the job,'' Duensing said after Sunday's 9-4 defeat. "The starting pitching right now is really struggling and not putting our team in a good spot.''

Justin Morneau singled for Minnesota on Sunday, and is batting .315 (17 for 54) during a 13-game hitting streak.

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