Twins Daily: Sweep of Royals started hot streak in June
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A four-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals at the beginning of June acted as a defibrillator for a Minnesota Twins team that sat 20 games under .500 and 16.5 games out of first place.
Despite losing Denard Span and Jason Kubel to injuries, the Twins used the momentum of that sweep in Kansas City to run off 15 victories in 17 games, moving back to within shouting distance of the Indians, Tigers and White Sox.
24-11: The Twins' record since traveling to Kansas City on June 2.
42-21: The Twins' record against the Royals since 2008.
26: Runs scored by the Twins during that four-game sweep of Kansas City in early June, which far exceeded their average of three per game heading into the series. The Twins hit .297/.360/.434 with 14 extra-base hits and 13 walks in the series.
6: Runs allowed during the same series. Twins pitchers posted a 1.50 ERA and allowed only five extra-base hits.
• Span (concussion) was cleared on Wednesday to begin a rehab assignment. Triple-A Rochester resumes play on Thursday in Buffalo, and manager Ron Gardenhire wants Span to play 7-10 games before returning to the big leagues. If that happens, Span's return could coincide with the Twins' home series against the Detroit Tigers, July 21-24.
• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) is scheduled to make one more rehab start for Rochester before the Twins likely option him to Triple-A officially.
• RHP Scott Baker (strained right flexor muscle) is on track to start Monday against the Cleveland Indians, barring a setback.
• Kubel (sprained left foot) was scheduled to be re-evaluated after the All-Star break. The Twins are hopeful he can resume his rehab assignment soon.
• 1B Justin Morneau (neck surgery, wrist) received a good report from the doctor on Wednesday, according to team president Dave St. Peter in an interview with 1500 ESPN. Morneau remains optimistic he can return before the end of August.
On Thursday, the six-week resurgence comes full circle, in a way, as the Twins welcome the Royals to Target Field (7:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN) in a match-up between left-handers Francisco Liriano (5-7, 5.06) and Bruce Chen (5-2, 3.26).
Liriano was sloppy in his last outing, allowing five earned runs on six hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays, but since seeing his ERA bloat to 9.13 at the end of April, Liriano has posted a 3.45 mark in 10 starts, striking out 54 in 60 innings. Liriano still battles mechanical issues far too often to be consistently lights-out, but when he finds a groove there are not many better pitchers.
Chen spent more than a month on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his left side, but has allowed one earned run or fewer in two of his three starts since being activated. Against current, active Twins hitters, Chen has allowed a .319/.333/.493 batting line with eight extra-base hits in 72 plate appearances. Danny Valencia is 6-for-9 with three doubles off the left-hander.
• Friday: vs. Kansas City, 7:10 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn (7-6, 4.24) vs. RHP Luke Hochevar (5-8, 5.46).
• Saturday: vs. Kansas City, 6:10 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (6-6, 4.10) vs. LHP Jeff Francis (3-10, 4.60).
• Sunday: vs. Kansas City, 1:10 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing (6-7, 4.13) vs. RHP Felipe Paulino (1-6, 4.31).