Twins want to capture AL Central crown

Twins seek to win division

MINNESOTA -- Four months ago, the Twins couldn't really fathom the idea of being in the playoff hunt as they struggled to remain close to the .500 mark.

It's amazing how drastically things can change.

As the Twins approach the final seven games of the season, they look to not only secure that spot in the playoffs, with their magic number sitting at two, but to continue their attempt at winning the American League Central title as well.

"We still haven't got ourselves into the playoffs yet, but we're pretty close," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Guys are getting excited. The ballgames all feel like playoff games right now. That's not a bad thing because it prepares you if you get into the postseason, for a bit of that too."

The Twins are coming off their final road trip of the season having gone 7-3 and will finish the final week at the Metrodome, the place that has provided plenty of wins for them already this season. The club owns the best home record in the Majors at 50-24, something it hopes to improve on as it faces the Royals for four games before facing the White Sox for the final three of the regular season.

It appears that the Royals will be the deciding factor in the division race as their final seven games come against both the Twins and the Tigers. First up is the four-game series at the Metrodome. The Tigers already swept the Royals in a three-game series at Kansas City this past weekend, and the Twins know that they will have to do something similar to keep there title hopes alive.

One thing that the Twins are very sure of is that they can't take the Royals lightly. The last time the team came to the Twin Cities, they took two of three to win the series and despite the rough weekend, there will be plenty of reasons for why the Royals will want to play well -- including dashing the Twins title hopes.

"They want to kick our butt, I guarantee you that," Jason Bartlett said. "They've got some guys that came up and they didn't have that great of a year but they could definitely end it on a high note by beating us and kicking us out of the playoffs."

And while there is quite a bit of excitement around the club at the prospect of just making the playoffs by earning the Wild Card, it's not the only thing the team is looking to secure this week. There is a feeling that the division would mean so much more to the club that has dealt with plenty of obstacles this season.

"We want the division," Bartlett said. "It would be such an extreme to go from 12 ½ games out to win the division. That would really be an amazing story."

One that the team hopes to write this week, but for now, it remains "to be continued."

Upcoming series vs. Royals: The Twins look to have the perfect opportunity to secure a playoff berth in this series as their magic number stands at two heading into the four-game set at the Metrodome. Still, the Royals have been a bit of a challenge for the Twins this year with Minnesota holding just a 9-6 edge over their division foes.

Monday: RHP Boof Bonser (6-5, 4.36 ERA) vs. LHP Jorge De La Rosa (5-5, 6.66)
• Bonser vs. Royals: 0-2, 7.56 in two starts
• De La Rosa vs. Twins: 0-2, 8.38 in three appearances (two starts)
• Twins vs. LHP starters: 33-25
• Keep an eye on ... Bonser, who has been one of the most consistent starters for the Twins of late. The 24-year-old has recorded quality starts in four of his last six outings. A strong performance here could earn him the No. 2 spot in the playoff rotation.

Tuesday: LHP Johan Santana (18-6, 2.79) vs. LHP Odalis Perez (6-8, 6.06)
• Santana vs. Royals: 2-0, 4.05 in four starts
• Perez vs. Twins: 0-1, 10.61 in two starts
• Keep an eye on ... Santana, who now is 12-4 with a 2.44 ERA in September over his career. With the Cy Young Award within his grasp, look for another strong performance from the lefty.

Wednesday: RHP Carlos Silva (10-14, 5.95) vs. LHP Mark Redman (10-10, 5.83)
• Silva vs. Royals: 1-1, 2.70 in two starts
• Redman vs. Twins: 1-1, 4.50 in three starts
• Keep an eye on ... Justin Morneau is 4-for-8 off Redman in his career with two doubles and three RBIs. Against left-handers, Morneau is hitting .322 with 12 home runs and 44 RBIs.

Thursday: RHP Scott Baker (5-8, 6.37) vs. RHP Luke Hudson (7-6, 5.49)
• Baker vs. Royals: 0-1, 3.86 in one start
• Hudson vs. Twins: 1-1, 4.32 in three appearances (one start)
• Twins vs. RHP starters: 59-38
• Keep an eye on ...Joe Mauer has been outstanding against right-handed pitchers this year, batting .360 with 10 home runs and 55 RBIs. With the AL batting title appearing to be a race to the finish, look for Mauer to try and take advantage of Hudson.

Weekend series vs. White Sox: Once looked at as a series that might decide the Wild Card, instead it appears that only the Twins hopes for a division championship will be on the line when these two meet. If that's the case, the Sox would love nothing more than to ruin any chance of the Twins earning that title. The Twins have taken seven of the nine meetings between the two since the All-Star break and lead the overall series 9-7 this season.

Friday: RHP Matt Garza (3-5, 5.32) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (12-13, 4.99)
• Garza vs. White Sox: first career appearance vs. Chicago
• Buehrle vs. Twins: 3-1, 3.38 in four starts
• Keep an eye on ... Buehrle, the last time he pitched at the dome he gave up seven runs in the first before settling down. Buehrle has struggled recently, allowing no less than three runs in each of his past five starts.

Saturday: Bonser (6-5, 4.36) vs. RHP Freddy Garcia (16-9, 4.65)
• Bonser vs. White Sox: 0-0, 5.06 in one start
• Garcia vs. Twins: 2-1, 4.58 in three starts
• Keep an eye on ... Torii Hunter has had Garcia's number over his career, hitting .405 (15-for-37) with three doubles, four home runs and seven RBIs off the pitcher.

Sunday: RHP Brad Radke (12-9, 4.46) vs. RHP Jon Garland (17-6, 4.37)
• Radke vs. White Sox: 2-2, 6.08 in five starts
• Garland vs. Twins: 1-1, 4.85
• Keep an eye on ... Radke, who despite troubles against the Sox this season holds a 16-15 record with a 4.73 ERA lifetime. Knowing that this could be the final regular season start of his career, Radke surely will want to put on a great performance.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.