Royals invade Dome

Twins start series against Central Division leaders

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins center fielder Torii Hunter didn't want anything to do with baseball during the all-star break. It was supposed to be a time to clear his head from the team's monthlong slump.

But as hard as he tried, Hunter couldn't resist looking at the schedule to see where the Twins could make up what was then a 7 1⁄2-game; gap between them and first-place Kansas City in the American League Central.

It didn't take long for him to figure it out.


Starting tonight against the Royals, 24 of the Twins' next 31 games are against AL Central teams.

"I was like, 'There's our chance,''' Hunter said. "The schedule is in our favor. We know what happened in the first half of the season, and now we have to go out there and play every game and every inning if we expect to be playing in October. We have to have the mind-set that we're going to win every game, something we didn't do when we were struggling."

The other seven games are against Baltimore, against whom the Twins have struggled recently. The Orioles beat the Twins five of six times last season, including a three-game sweep at Camden Yards. The Twins start a four game series there Aug. 4.

Barring a complete collapse by whichever team is in first place, the Twins would have virtually no chance to win the division if they're seven or eight games behind at the end of August.

"We know we have to get after it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "When you get down by 7 1⁄2; games at the all-star break, you know you can't get too far behind because you never know what might happen with the rosters and all those types of things. We want to be no more than five games out by the start of August."

The Twins had their five-game winning streak snapped Tuesday night by Seattle, 10-8. Still they have picked up two games on the Royals since the break.

"We've zeroed back in," Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said. "That's what we did last year, and we finally got back to it. It just took three months, though."

Having great success in the AL Central, one of the worst divisions in baseball, has been the key to the Twins' success the past two seasons. Since the unbalanced schedule went into effect two seasons ago, they have won 97 division games--more than any other American League team. Only the New York Yankees of the AL East have had a higher winning percentage within their division, 64.4 to 64.2, over the past two seasons.


This season, however, the Twins are 15-17 against divisional opponents.

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