Phillies-Twins Preview

The Associated Press

The Philadelphia Phillies have lost nine straight when scoring fewer than nine runs, and they'll need another big offensive outburst Thursday night unless Joe Blanton can turn things around.

Runs may be tough to come by, however, against red-hot Minnesota Twins starter Scott Diamond as these teams decide their interleague series at Target Field.

The only two games the Phillies (30-34) have won in their last 11 were Wednesday's 9-8 victory and a 9-6 win for Blanton on Friday at Baltimore.

Their output Wednesday - thanks to four RBIs each from Jim Thome and John Mayberry - was barely enough, as they nearly squandered an early six-run lead despite having Cole Hamels on the mound.

Thome hit a long home run over the center field backdrop.

"That's the deep water, and only a few boys can go in the deep water," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said.

The 41-year-old Thome is 10 for 21 with two homers and 10 RBIs in his last five games - all as a designated hitter in AL parks - after starting the season 2 for 20 with no RBIs, mostly as a pinch hitter. The former Twin is enjoying Philadelphia's nine-game interleague road trip and not thinking about whether he'll be able to play first base after it ends.

"I try not to look too much ahead," Thome said. "Baseball's that way. You focus on the day and the moment."

The struggling Blanton (5-6, 5.40 ERA) may need help, too.

The right-hander allowed five runs in 6 2-3 innings against the Orioles, lowering his ERA in his last five outings to 9.91. Opponents are batting .361 with 11 homers over 26 1-3 innings in that stretch.

"The way things have been going for me, I'm not even thinking about runs," Blanton said. "I'm just trying to survive."

Diamond (5-1, 1.61) has thrived in his seven starts this season, after posting a 1-5 record and 5.08 ERA last year in his first seven major league outings.

The left-hander hasn't walked anybody or allowed an earned run while winning his last two starts. He struck out five and scattered seven hits over six scoreless innings Saturday in an 11-3 win over the Chicago Cubs, improving to 3-0 with a 1.03 ERA in four home starts.

"We've been trying to attack inside the whole time," Diamond said. "I found out last year that was my game plan and my style of pitching. Just trying to build off that and develop the other pitches around it."

Gardenhire would love a long outing from Diamond after Wednesday's starter P.J. Walters failed to record an out. He allowed four hits, and eventually four runs, before leaving with a shoulder problem.

Diamond has won both of his interleague starts but has never faced the Phillies. Blanton is 4-4 with a 4.45 ERA in eight starts against the Twins, limiting Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to a combined three extra-base hits in 43 at-bats.

Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham could be equally big concerns for Blanton and the Phillies. Plouffe homered Wednesday for the fourth time in five games - he's 10 for 20 with nine RBIs in that stretch - while Willingham also went deep for the second straight game to extend his hitting streak to 15.

The Twins (25-36) are trying to avoid their first back-to-back losses since a five-game skid May 23-27. The Phillies haven't won consecutive games in nearly as long, since May 30 and June 1.