Twins keep on fighting in American League Central

Updated: August 6, 2009

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Justin Verlander, who has won four of his past five decisions, takes the mound Saturday for Detroit.

The Twins are struggling a bit lately, so it probably doesn't help that this weekend in Detroit they are going to see both Justin Verlander and Jarrod Washburn. The Twins have played well this year against the Tigers -- Minnesota owns a 6-2 record this season -- but their struggles lately having lost four of six make it hard to favor them in this matchup of the Al Central leaders (Detroit) and one of the chasers (Minnesota).

The three starters the Twins will use this weekend -- Anthony Swarzak, Glen Perkins and Scott Baker -- have a combined ERA of 4.93 this season. On a team with an offense that doesn't provide a huge power threat, the pitching needs to be strong to win close games. The Twins haven't gotten what they expected from Francisco Liriano, and the other guys involved in the rotation don't quite mesh. The Twins couldn't make a move at the trade deadline for a second-tier guy to give the rotation a much-needed boost because of the restrictions with their prospects. It's now just a matter of getting these five guys over the hump and hungry to contend for the remainder of the season.

Besides Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, the Minnesota offense doesn't have much depth. Manager Ron Gardenhire does the best he can with what he has. He, like Mike Scioscia, puts a lot of emphasis on playing small ball. He encourages his team to play smart defensive baseball and takes pride in preventing runs just as much as in scoring them. All the little things a club should know how to do well, the Twins are able to do.

Featured Series: Twins at Tigers
FRIDAY
Twins (Anthony Swarzak) at Tigers (Armando Galarraga), 7:05 ET
SATURDAY
Twins (Glen Perkins) at Tigers (Justin Verlander), 7:05 ET
SUNDAY
Twins (Scott Baker) at Tigers (Jarrod Washburn), 1:05 ET

Under Gardenhire, the Twins have always been a team with their backs against the wall. On paper, the matchups never look good, but still you can never count them out. Last spring training, I was down in Florida for, coincidentally, a Twins-Tigers game. The Tigers had just acquired Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Florida Marlins, and the baseball universe predicted the team would score a 1,000 runs and be a lock for the World Series. When I interviewed Gardenhire and asked him what he thought about competing against a team like the Tigers 20 times a year, he simply said his team would be just fine. He was quietly confident. He takes pride in the fact that his team is always considered an underdog, and he uses that to motivate his players. No, they don't unleash the most dangerous starting nine every night, but they keep hanging around until the end just about every year. They made a great run last season that forced a postseason play-in game with the White Sox. That 1,000-run Tiger team happened to finished dead last.

The Tigers and White Sox right now look to be the teams in line for the AL Central crown, but you can't really ever count out the Twins.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Aug. 5 | Aug. 4 | Aug. 3 | Aug. 2 | July 30

ON DECK: WEEKEND WATCH

Red Sox at Yankees

The start of the series did not go well for the Red Sox, as John Smoltz was pounded for eight earned runs by the Yankees' offense in the opener. A lot can still happen over three days, and two former Marlins pitchers head to the mound, with A.J. Burnett facing Josh Beckett.

Rangers at Angels

The Angels could very well put away the AL West in this series -- or the Rangers could reaffirm that they are not going anywhere. Texas trails by 4 games, so the division race could endure a big swing over the next three games. Scott Feldman starts Friday's game for the Rangers opposite Joe Saunders.

Rays at Mariners

While the Yankees and Red Sox fight it out, the other contender in the AL East has the pleasure of opening a series against Seattle and Felix Hernandez. Although his strikeout numbers are down -- he has only four over his past two outings -- Hernandez has still been essentially unbeatable. He is 8-1 since May 19.

For the rest of Friday's schedule, click here. To see what's on tap for Saturday, click here. And for Sunday's full slate of games, click here.


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BBTN MINUTE: RED SOX TRY TO RECOVER IN GAME 2

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Insider Who went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page. For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPSITUATION
Mark Reynolds, ARI33HartTop 6: 3-2, 0 Outs. None on.
Adrian Gonzalez, SD29HernandezBot 3: 2-2, 0 Outs. 1 on.
Mark Teixeira, NYY28TraberBot 7: 2-1, 0 Outs. None on.
Ryan Zimmerman, WAS23VolstadBot 5: 0-1, 1 Out. 1 on.
Brandon Inge, DET22HernandezBot 2: 0-0, 1 Out. 1 on.
The complete list of Thursday's homers

WEB GEMS

THURSDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Cliff LeeCliff Lee is having no trouble with this National League transition. Lee, in his second start with the Phillies and first at home, picked up another win by striking out nine over seven innings of a 3-1 victory over Colorado. He has permitted two runs in 16 innings with the Phillies and has won both starts.
WORST
Luis Ayala• The Marlins' bullpen coughed up another lead against the Nationals. This time, Florida gave away an early 6-0 lead in a 12-8 loss against Washington. Reliever Luis Ayala had a rough outing, allowing two hits, two walks and four runs in one inning of work.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Felix Hernandez Two of baseball's top young pitchers are on display Friday night in Seattle, as 23-year-old Mariners ace Felix Hernandez faces off against 26-year-old Rays rookie Jeff Niemann. Being at home hasn't been much of an advantage this season for King Felix.

He is 8-1 with a league-leading 1.96 ERA away from Safeco Field. But he is just 4-3 at home with a 4.01 ERA. So what has been the difference? Batters are teeing off on Hernandez's off-speed offerings in Seattle, particularly right-handed batters. That could mean a big night for righty Evan Longoria, who enters Friday 1-for-6 against Hernandez with four strikeouts.

Felix Hernandez
BA against (2009)
Home Road
vs. curveball .474 .176
vs. slider .225 .160
vs. changeup .214 .095
RHBs vs. off-speed .389 .122

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF FRIDAY'S GAMES

Fantasy Adam Madison examines the 15 games on Friday's slate.

Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Friday. Daily Notes