An eight-game winning streak came to an end on Thursday afternoon for the first-place Detroit Tigers (20-10), who hope to start a new streak Friday against the division-rival Minnesota Twins (15-18). The Twins are on the home stretch of a seven-game road trip that started with a victory in Cleveland, but has gone sour with three straight losses to the tribe.
Minnesota's mini three-game winning streak from May 3-5 brought it back to .500 (15-15) and second place in the division, but the recent struggles dropped the Twins all the way to last place.
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In the meantime Detroit played its best baseball of the young season, leading the American League in both batting average and ERA during the winning streak. Houston salvaged one game out of the four-game series Thursday behind starter Dallas Keuchel, who held the scorching Tiger bats to just seven hits and two runs.
Detroit looks to bounce back against Phil Hughes, one of the top pitchers in Minnesota's starting rotation. Hughes has bounced back from an awful first month of his Twins career by averaging over 6.5 innings and just two earned runs per start in three straight victories.
TV: 7:08 p.m. ET, FSN North (Minnesota), FSN Detroit
Hughes is no stranger to pitching with traffic on the base paths, surrendering 33 hits in 28 innings on the season. The key for the 27-year-old is limiting the free passes. In his first three starts Hughes issued five walks and 12 earned runs, but cut the runs in half during his next three starts by allowing just one walk.
Three of Detroit's top hitters have experienced major success against Hughes in his young career. Miguel Cabrera features monster numbers against the Twins starter, including a .536 batting average, five home runs and 12 RBI. Torii Hunter hits .471 in 17 at bats against Hughes, and Victor Martinez hits .333.
Despite the gaudy career numbers, the Tigers' lineup was stifled by Hughes on April 26, managing just four hits over seven innings in a losing effort. The victory came as a relief to the former Yankee, as he had lost his previous four starts to Detroit, including one in the 2012 postseason.
Martinez has paced the Tiger offense through 30 games, leading the team in average (.333), home runs (seven) and on base percentage (.389). His teammate Cabrera is emerging from his slump and recorded two home runs and six RBI in the series with Houston.
Detroit will send ace Justin Verlander to the mound, hoping the 31-year-old can earn his fifth win of the season. Verlander has been consistent through seven starts, recording six quality starts and allowing no earned runs during the seventh.
The former MVP has seen the division-rival Twins 27 times during his 10-year career, holding hitters to a .251 average on 172 hits and 170 strikeouts. Verlander is 9-0 against Minnesota since May 2010 and 14-7 overall. He will see a resurgent offense that ranks in the top five in the AL in runs.
Verlander has one nemesis on the Twins roster in first baseman Joe Mauer, who holds a lifetime .371 average with three home runs, nine RBI and 12 walks against him.
The Tigers and Twins will play two day games over the weekend, with first pitch coming at 1:08 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.