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Tigers, Twins Battle For First Place In AL Central

(Sports Network) - A key three-game series will commence tonight in the Twin Cities, where the Minnesota Twins will try to maintain their slim lead atop the AL Central standings versus the Detroit Tigers at Target Field.

The Twins are only a half-game ahead of Detroit in the division and have lost six of their last nine games, including two of three matchups with the New York Mets over the weekend. In Sunday's 6-0 loss at Citi Field, Scott Baker was rattled for all six runs and 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings to suffer the loss.

Orlando Hudson and Nick Punto had two hits apiece in defeat.

"Bad day at the ballpark. We really didn't get it done today. We missed some opportunities to drive in some runs," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Baker couldn't put a hitter away today, just couldn't get his breaking ball down and missed on a couple of sliders that were just hanging there."

After going 3-6 on the nine-game trek, the Twins are back at home for a seven- game residency versus the Tigers and Rays.

Francisco Liriano hopes to pitch himself and the Twins back into the win column when he takes the mound Monday. Liriano has lost two straight and five of his last seven decisions and is coming off last Wednesday's 5-3 loss at Milwaukee in which he allowed three runs and seven hits in five innings.

Liriano, who is 6-5 with a 3.11 ERA in 14 starts this season, defeated Detroit in Motown back on April 27 with eight shutout innings and 10 K's. The lefty is 4-1 with a 3.94 ERA in 12 career games (8 starts) against the Tigers.

Detroit will begin the final stage of its nine-game road trip tonight and salvaged the finale of a three-game set in Atlanta with Sunday's 10-4 victory. Justin Verlander started for the Tigers and improved to 9-5 despite allowing four runs and six hits in seven innings.

Phil Coke and Jose Valverde both threw a scoreless inning of relief to preserve the win, while Brennan Boesch finished 2-for-5 with a home run, three RBI and two runs scored for the Tigers, who are 2-4 on the trek and can take over sole possession of first place in the AL Central with a win Monday.

"It was a big day for us," Boesch said on the team's website. "I didn't want what had been going on the last day or so to slow us down."

Austin Jackson had three hits and two RBI, Ramon Santiago knocked in two runs and Gerald Laird went 3-for-5 with a pair of runs scored and an RBI for Detroit. Carlos Guillen also had three hits in the win.

Jeremy Bonderman gets the call for the Tigers tonight and he is 3-5 with a 4.20 ERA over 14 games (13 starts) this season. He lost his most recent start on Wednesday against the New York Mets, as he surrendered four runs and seven hits in six innings of a 5-0 loss.

Bonderman, a right-hander, is just 1-3 in his previous four decisions and owns the same ledger in seven road starts this season. He is 3-6 with a 5.32 ERA in 16 career games (14 starts) against the Twins.

Minnesota has won four of six matchups with Detroit this season and swept a three-game series at Target Field from May 3-5.