Get ready for the most impactful 10 days in the race for the American League Central title. Starting with Tuesday's matchup at U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox and Twins will face off six times in the next 10 days -- three times in Chicago and three times in Minnesota -- giving both teams a chance to wrest first place and precious momentum from its closest competitor.
The two teams will play just three times in September, giving added importance to this segment of the schedule. Both teams have gone on extended winning streaks and will come into this series playing their best. Minnesota has won a league-best 17 games since the All-Star break, while Chicago has gone 20-3 in its past 23 games at home.
The Twins got second baseman Orlando Hudson back from the disabled list in Sunday's game, but they're still missing lineup linchpin Justin Morneau and infielder Nick Punto, not to mention closer Joe Nathan, who went out for the year before the season started. That adversity has bred a closer team, according to starter Carl Pavano.
"We've overcome a lot of stuff, losing a couple guys that are key to our lineup and our defense. We've had young guys step up," Pavano said. "That's what keeps teams in the win column. That's a credit to the organization for making these guys ready to step in. You don't go through a season where you don't lose guys. ... That's the reason why we're here, because we have guys that can step up. It keeps the team afloat until we get those other guys back. You look at a lot of teams that win, and that's what they do: They get the young guys in there and they do a good job."
Pavano will miss this series, but the Twins will hand the ball to Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano in Games 1 and 3, with a fill-in for Kevin Slowey -- likely Glen Perkins -- in Game 2. Chicago will counter with Freddy Garcia, John Danks and Gavin Floyd.
Baker has pitched to an ERA over 5.00 in three of the season's first four months, and he's worked to a 2-6 record and a 5.43 ERA away from Target Field. The former second-round draftee has completed at least six innings 14 times this season, and he's held the opposition to three earned runs or less in 12 of his 22 starts.
Garcia, meanwhile, has gone 10-2 in his past 12 decisions, a run that dates all the way back to the start of May. The right-hander has completed at least six innings in 10 of his past 12 starts, and he's allowed more than three earned runs just two times in that span. Garcia is 5-2 with a 3.74 ERA at home this season.
The Twins and White Sox have been the two top hitting teams in the American League over the past few months, with Minnesota batting a league-best .315 (280-for-888) since the All-Star break and Chicago hitting .291 (365-for-1255) with 46 home runs in its past 37 games, second only to the Twins over that span.
Twins: Mauer back to familiar form
Morneau has been out since July 8 while dealing with the effects of a concussion, but Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer has been back to his Most Valuable Player form. Mauer, the league's reigning MVP, has hit safely in 22 of his last 27 games, notching a .383 (41-for-107) average with 25 RBIs and 21 runs scored.
Jim Thome went deep for Minnesota on Sunday, giving the slugger 578 career homers and 1,601 RBIs. That latter total allowed Thome to pass Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie for 31st place on the game's all-time chart.
White Sox: Beckham, Ramirez getting it done
Chicago's double-play combination has been experiencing a dual resurgence at the plate, with second baseman Gordon Beckham and shortstop Alexei Ramirez going through extended hot streaks.
Beckham has batted .391 (39-for-87) with 10 doubles and four home runs in his past 24 games, raising his batting average nearly 50 points (from .205 to .251) in the process. Beckham batted .354 in July, the seventh-highest average of any American League player, after batting .235 or below in each of the season's first three months.
Ramirez didn't have that big of a pit to climb out of, but he's batted .343 (55-for-160) in his past 41 games. Ramirez even outhit Beckham in July, notching a .362 mark with five home runs and 12 RBIs in 25 games.
Infielder Matt Tolbert began a rehab assignment Monday with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Twins. Tolbert has been on the disabled list since July 3, retroactive to July 1, with a bruise on his right middle finger. ... Following a three-strikeout performance Monday night in one inning of work, White Sox All-Star reliever Matt Thornton has made 22 straight scoreless appearances over which he has combined for 18 scoreless innings. Thornton has the most strikeouts (224) by a left-handed reliever since 2008. ... Minnesota veteran Michael Cuddyer has reached via hit or walk in 30 of his past 32 games.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.