|Twins aim for sweep of slumping Rays|
Left-hander Martin Perez will take the mound for American League Central-leading Minnesota on Thursday afternoon as the Twins try to finish off a three-game series sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays in Minneapolis.
Minnesota knocked off reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell in a 9-4 win on Tuesday, then rallied to hand Charlie Morton just his second loss in 10 decisions in a 6-4 victory on Wednesday.
The defeat on Wednesday guaranteed the first losing month of the season for the Rays, who are 10-15 in June and have dropped seven of their last nine games. The good news is that Tampa Bay, despite the poor month, is still 10 games over .500 and has the best record among second-place teams in the AL.
Nelson Cruz's two-out, three-run double in the seventh rallied the Twins on Wednesday night. Cruz drilled a 0-2 slider from reliever Emilio Pagan into the gap in left center where it bounced off the fence on one hop to put Minnesota in front 6-4.
"Just get something I could hit," Cruz said when asked what his mindset was before the pitch. "I was lucky enough to hit it in the gap and get us the lead."
"Nobody likes to see (Cruz) with men on base," Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. "He's been doing that a long time."
Cruz's hit spoiled what had been an impressive comeback for Tampa Bay from a 3-0 first-inning deficit against Jake Odorizzi and the Twins. Kevin Kiermaier hit a two-run homer, and Tommy Pham and Willy Adames each had solo shots. Adames' 424-foot drive to dead center off reliever Trevor May gave the Rays a 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh.
"They're all tough," Cash said of the loss. "There's no doubt. We've got to try and find a way to stay positive, and that's much easier said than done right now because I'm sure there are plenty of guys who are frustrated.
"That's going to happen over the course of a long season. We recognize that. And when you play a good team, it's even tougher. That's kind of what we've been up against on this road trip."
Morton added, "All teams go through this. All teams have rough stretches in the season. The goal is to minimize that and not let the momentum get to the point where it's really difficult to turn it around."
Facing Perez (7-3, 4.28 ERA) on Thursday afternoon may be just what the Rays need. The 28-year-old is 0-4 with a 7.49 ERA in nine career games, seven starts, against the Rays, his worst record against any opponent. He was on the losing end of a 14-3 drubbing by the Rays on May 30, when he allowed six runs on six hits and two walks in just 2 2/3 innings.
Tampa Bay will counter with right-handed opener Ryne Stanek (0-1, 2.47 ERA) before turning it over to lefty Jalen Beeks (5-0, 2.95 ERA). Stanek is 0-0 with a 4.05 ERA in five career appearances, two starts, against Minnesota.
The Twins likely will be without All-Star hopeful Eddie Rosario, who leads the team in home runs (20) and RBIs (60). Rosario left the Wednesday night contest in the third inning after turning his left ankle while rounding first base and trying to stretch a single into a double.
"Eddie's doing pretty well," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said postgame. "I heard he was actually on crutches, but that was more precautionary than anything else. He had some testing done -- an MRI and some imaging -- and it all came back looking good.
"It's an ankle sprain. It seems like it's not an overly severe ankle sprain at that. We might have lucked out a little bit."
--Field Level Media