Neither the Los Angeles Angels nor Minnesota Twins are heading into this critical four-game series the way they'd hoped as they chase the AL's second wild card.
Hector Santiago's recent struggles on the road could shift the advantage Minnesota's way in Thursday night's opener.
The Angels (73-72) have dropped three of four after Wednesday's 3-1 loss to Seattle, and the Twins (75-70) lost the final two of a three-game set with Detroit following a 7-4 defeat in 12 innings.
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Both clubs failed to gain ground on Houston, which lost to Texas for the third straight night. Minnesota remained 1 1/2 games behind the Astros for the AL's last playoff spot, with Los Angeles sitting 3 1/2 back.
The Angels are in the midst of a 10-game trip that concludes with three against Houston beginning Monday. Santiago (8-9, 3.21 ERA) looks to help them get back on track, but he's gone 0-4 with a 7.40 ERA in his last five road starts.
Santiago made his last two starts at home, overcoming a career high-tying six walks and allowing one hit in six innings of a 7-0 win over Texas on Sept. 6 before giving up two runs in seven innings of Saturday's 3-2 victory over Houston.
The left-hander had allowed at least four runs while pitching fewer than five innings in each of his previous three outings.
"It was exactly what I wanted to do," Santiago said after his last start. "Keep us in the game, pitch deep into the game and get us a chance to win."
Tommy Milone (8-5, 3.73) allowed two runs in 14 innings while winning his previous two starts before giving up seven runs - four earned - in 3 2-3 innings of Saturday's 8-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
"In Tommy's case, just try to regroup and come back and have a better start next time," manager Paul Molitor said.
The left-hander is 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his last five starts against the Angels, but he hasn't had much success against Albert Pujols (9 for 22 with seven doubles).
Pujols is 0 for 15 over his last four, though, and the Angels mustered only David Murphy's sixth-inning homer Wednesday.
The bullpen, which has a 7.53 ERA over the last four, was called into action earlier than expected when Jered Weaver was ejected with two outs in the fifth inning for beaning Kyle Seager following a brief argument between the two.
"There are still things that can happen if we keep winning, and that's all we have to worry about is winning," Weaver said.
Minnesota had a lead heading into the ninth Wednesday before former Angel Kevin Jepsen allowed two runs for his first blown save in eight chances since being acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline. The Twins tied it in the bottom half before Brian Duensing gave up three in the 12th.
Regular closer Glen Perkins hasn't pitched since Sept. 1 because of a sore back, but Molitor said he could be ready Friday. Minnesota relievers have allowed seven runs in 11 innings over the past two after posting a 0.95 ERA over the previous six.
"You're going to have these kinds of losses. They're kind of magnified with where we're at," Molitor said. "You try to learn from it."
The Angels took two of three from the Twins from July 21-23 in Anaheim and swept a four-game series in their most recent trip to Minnesota last September.