(Sports Network) - Both the Minnesota Twins and Francisco Liriano will be aiming to continue their respective hot streaks when the American League Central contenders start up a three-game series with the Cleveland Indians tonight at Progressive Field.
Minnesota has played terrific baseball over the past two-plus weeks, having amassed an AL-best 12-3 record since July 21. The defending AL Central champions still haven't been able to make much ground in the division race, however, as first-place Chicago has won nine of its past 11 contests to maintain a 1 1/2-game advantage over the Twins.
Following this series, the Twins and White Sox will face one another three straight times in Chicago beginning on Tuesday.
Minnesota comes into Cleveland having split four matchups with AL East leader Tampa Bay to begin an important 10-game road trip. After losing the first two tests of the trek, the Twins regrouped to win the next two games and closed out the set with a wild 8-6 triumph on Thursday.
After blowing a 6-0 lead by allowing the Rays to score six times in the bottom of the eighth inning, Minnesota bounced back with a two-run ninth that was aided by the strange dimensions of Tropicana Field. With runners on first and third and two out, Jason Kubel hit a towering popup towards second base that struck a catwalk near the stadium roof and changed direction. The Rays were unable to catch the ball as it hit the turf behind the pitcher's mound, allowing Jason Repko to score the go-ahead run.
"We got a leadoff double (from Repko), got him over and got a nice break there off the speaker," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire remarked. "We've lost ball games here the same way."
Michael Cuddyer followed with an RBI single and was one of six Minnesota regulars, along with Kubel and Repko, to collect multiple hits on the afternoon. J.J. Hardy had a 3-for-4 day for the Twins that included an RBI single during a four-run first inning.
Kubel's fluke hit helped give newly-acquired reliever Matt Capps his first win in a Minnesota uniform. The former Washington closer threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings after taking over for Ron Mahay, who served up a game-tying grand slam to ex-Twin Jason Bartlett in the bottom of the eighth.
Liriano has played a key role in Minnesota's recent surge and been one of baseball's most dominant pitchers since the All-Star break. The talented lefty has won all four of his second-half starts and yielded a mere two runs in a combined 28 2/3 innings over that outstanding span. He enters tonight's clash riding a streak of 21 consecutive scoreless frames.
The 26-year-old began that scoreless stretch by firing seven shutout frames with eight strikeouts to defeat the Indians July 21 at Target Field. Liriano has also thrown seven scoreless innings in each of his last two assignments, including a sensational stint against Seattle on Sunday in which he gave up only two hits and matched a season high with 11 strikeouts.
Liriano has won all three of his 2010 encounters with Cleveland as well and limited the Tribe to three runs over 22 innings during those games. He allowed three runs and fanned nine batters in an 8-3 verdict at Progressive Field back on May 2.
In 11 career appearances (nine starts) against Cleveland, Liriano is 5-3 with a 3.15 ERA.
The Indians remain at the bottom of the AL Central standings, but had won four times in a five-game span on the road before dropping a 6-2 decision at Boston last night. Cleveland split four meetings with the Red Sox and finished off a seven-game road trip with a 4-3 record.
Rookie Josh Tomlin (1-1) lasted seven innings in his third major league start, but the Indians right-hander served up a grand slam to Adrian Beltre in the bottom of the fourth inning that turned out to be the difference. He gave up just four hits and struck out five in an otherwise solid showing.
The Indians didn't provide Tomlin much offensive support, managing only a first-inning solo homer by Shin-Soo Choo and five hits total in eight innings against Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka.
"Daisuke was tough," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "We aren't going to be a hitting-machine type of club. We battled and scrapped, but [Thursday] was tough with him throwing the ball low to mid-90's and the arsenal he has."
Acta will be sending out another hurler with limited experience in tonight's opener, with Jeanmar Gomez set to make his third start in the big leagues. The 22-year-old's first two have gone quite well, as he posted wins over Detroit and Toronto and surrendered only four runs -- two earned -- in 12 innings over the pair of games.
Gomez dazzled in his Indians debut on July 18, holding the Tigers to two unearned runs and five hits over seven innings in a spot start. The right- hander was sent back to Triple-A Columbus following the contest, but was promoted again last weekend to fill the rotation spot vacated when Cleveland traded veteran Jake Westbrook to St. Louis on Saturday.
The native Venezuelan picked up his second win after allowing two runs in five innings to best Toronto on Sunday.
Minnesota took two of three games from the Indians in Cleveland from April 30- May 2 and has prevailed in five of the nine overall meetings in this year's season series.