Cubs-Twins Preview

The Associated Press

While the Minnesota Twins continue to dig out of a tough start, the Chicago Cubs keep suffering difficult losses.

The Cubs figure to have a tough assignment Saturday when a surging Scott Diamond gets the ball at Target Field for the Twins, who could finally have Joe Mauer back in the lineup.

Minnesota (23-34) remains in last place in the AL Central, but has won eight of 10 following Friday's 8-7, 10-inning victory. Josh Willingham singled in Darin Mastroianni with the winning run after the Twins rallied from three runs down.

"Winning brings confidence in everybody," Willingham said. "We've been winning more lately, so everybody's more confident. I don't think we ever get down or feel like we're out of a game when we get down a few runs early."

Chicago (19-39) fell to 1-7 on this 10-game trip with a third straight loss and second in a row in extra innings. The Cubs blew an eighth-inning lead in Thursday's 4-3, 10-inning defeat in Milwaukee and Shawn Camp let a 7-6 lead slip away in the ninth Friday when Justin Morneau tripled in Willingham.

"We just couldn't get those final outs (with our) bullpen," manager Dale Sveum said Friday.

The Cubs' 2-12 mark against left-handed starters is the worst in the majors as they get their first look at Diamond (4-1, 1.86 ERA), who has been stellar in six outings.

Diamond gave up three unearned runs over seven innings Sunday to earn a 6-3 victory at Cleveland. He has provided stability to a Minnesota rotation that owns the majors' worst ERA at 6.11.

"My confidence is high, but I'm looking more at how comfortable I am," Diamond told the Twins' official website. "As that game progressed, I felt more comfortable."

Manager Ron Gardenhire indicated that Mauer could be back Saturday after missing four games with a sprained right thumb. Mauer, 7 for 11 in interleague play this season, took batting practice Friday for the first time since suffering the injury Sunday.

Willingham has hit safely in 11 straight games, going 15 for 40 with three homers, 13 RBIs and eight walks.

Chicago has a hot hitter for Diamond to contend with in Alfonso Soriano, who is serving as the designated hitter this weekend due to a sore left knee. Soriano homered twice Friday to give him 11 in his last 23 games after he had none in his first 30.

"Today yeah, I had a good game today, but it's not enough," Soriano said. "We (came up) short to get the win. So, we've got to come back tomorrow and keep pushing it, have a better day and get the win."

David DeJesus had two hits Friday and is batting .352 during a 17-game streak at Minnesota, including all 10 of his games at Target Field.

Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija (5-3, 3.13) will try to use the spacious dimensions of the pitcher-friendly park to reverse his road woes. He's 3-1 with a 1.96 ERA in five outings at hitter-friendly Wrigley Field but 2-2 with a 4.45 ERA in six on the road.

The right-hander has yielded three runs or fewer in eight straight starts overall. He gave up two while walking five over five innings and did not get a decision Monday in a 3-2 defeat at San Francisco.

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