Dan Wetzel:
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Twins-Astros Preview

AP - Sports

Joe Mauer's return was likely too late to help the Minnesota Twins avoid another disappointing finish, but he certainly provided a spark to their lineup.

Mauer looks to guide Minnesota to a third straight victory Tuesday night against the Houston Astros.

Though Mauer's .274 batting average is the lowest of his career, he seemed to be finding a groove with a 12-game hitting streak before going on the disabled list July 2 with an oblique injury.

Activated prior to Monday's series opener, Mauer was 2 for 4 and drove in the go-ahead run with a ninth-inning single in a 4-2 victory. Minnesota traded outfielder Josh Willingham to Kansas City in exchange for minor league right-hander Jason Adam earlier in the day.

"I was on a high coming in and seeing everybody and then to see one of our guys go out that was pretty tough," Mauer said. "But then to win the ballgame was a good way to end it."

Mauer, who missed 34 contests due to the injury, is hitting .373 with 13 RBIs over his last 13 games and the Twins (53-64) are 37-40 when he plays.

"This guy, I've always said he can get right out of bed and hit," manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Danny Santana also continues to rake for Minnesota, going 3 for 5 Monday to improve to 16 for 40 with 11 runs over his last nine games. He's 9 for 20 versus Houston and his .322 average leads all rookies with at least 200 at-bats.

Meanwhile, the Astros (49-70) have dropped five of seven and continue to struggle with runners in scoring position, going 10 for 55 (.182) in that span, including 1 for 12 in their last two contests.

Chris Carter is hitting .325 with 21 RBIs in his last 20 games and hit his 26th homer Monday. Carter's 13 homers since July 4 lead the majors, however, Monday's blast was a solo shot and he's 2 for his last 9 with runners in scoring position.

Jose Altuve, who was 2 for 4 with his fifth home run, leads the AL with a .336 batting average.

Houston will try to provide some run support for Collin McHugh (4-9, 3.18 ERA), who is 0-6 in his last nine starts but has impressed in his last two, limiting Toronto and Philadelphia to a combined two runs in 13 1-3 innings. He didn't record a decision in a 14-5 win at Minnesota on June 8 after struggling through 4 1-3 innings in which he gave up three runs and five walks.

The Twins counter with Yohan Pino (1-4, 4.59), who is 1-2 with a 5.85 ERA in four road starts and gave up three runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 3-0 loss in Oakland on Thursday.

"They were aggressive," said Pino, whose lone win came July 10 at Seattle. "I was trying to throw the first pitch for strikes and they were swinging at it ... I feel I can do better."

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