With their hopes of heading back to the playoffs dwindling, the Minnesota Twins meet the Kansas City Royals on Monday night in the opener of a three-game series between the AL Central rivals.
Minnesota (70-73) has lost 10 of its last 13 games and is tied for the majors' second-worst record since Aug. 27. Two of the Twins' victories in that stretch, however, have come against the Royals (62-80) as the clubs split a four-game series from Aug. 31-Sept. 2 in Minneapolis.
Minnesota's slide has made a fifth playoff appearance in six seasons very unlikely -- it trails the wild card-leading New York Yankees by 11 games.
The Twins, though, snapped a season-high six-game skid with a 5-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday for their first win over a team other than the Royals since Aug. 26. Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana allowed one run and five hits while striking out 10 in seven innings and Jason Kubel had four RBIs.
Joe Mauer, last year's AL batting champion, went 1-for-3 in his first start since Aug. 25 and is hitting .295 this season. He had been sidelined by a left hamstring strain.
"He's 75 percent, as they say," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He didn't run much. He put a good swing on the ball and did a good job behind the plate. You can just see the difference, the way the game goes along."
Mauer is a career .323 hitter against the Royals, who have dropped five straight games - their longest slide since a seven-game skid May 24-30. They lost 6-3 to the New York Yankees on Sunday.
Kansas City, though, has won eight of 15 games from Minnesota heading into their final regular-season series with the Twins. The Royals are 4-2 against the Twins at Kauffman Stadium this year.
On Monday, they'll face struggling Boof Bonser (6-12, 4.95 ERA), who has lost 10 of 11 decisions while posting a 5.56 ERA in his last 15 starts.
The right-hander's last start came last Sunday against the Royals, who tagged him for five runs and seven hits in just 1 2-3 innings of an 8-1 loss. Bonser, who's winless in five starts against the Royals this year, fell to 1-4 with a 4.87 ERA in eight career starts against them.
"All you can do is put a pitcher out there, give him the ball and hopefully he has his good stuff," Gardenhire told the Twins' official Web site.
Rookie third baseman Alex Gordon, who accounted for all of Kansas City's runs on Sunday with a three-run double, is 3-for-9 with two homers against Bonser.
The Royals will counter with rookie Billy Buckner (0-0, 5.40), who will try again for his first major league win. The right-hander had given up only one run in 7 2-3 innings spanning two relief appearances - his first in the majors - but was lit up for six runs in four innings in his first start on Tuesday.
He didn't get a decision in the Royals' 9-8 loss to Texas, and will be making his first appearance versus Minnesota.