Twins-Rays preview

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- While the Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays sit at the bottom of the standings in the American League, both clubs enter Friday's series opener playing some decent baseball.

The Twins (43-65) dropped a 9-2 decision to the Cleveland Indians on Thursday afternoon but won the first three games of the four-game series against the AL Central leaders.

The Rays (44-63) have won two straight, rallying for three runs in the eighth inning Thursday to defeat the Kansas City Royals 3-2.

"By coming back and continuing to battle, I think we're showing what kind of character we have on this team," said Rays shortstop Brad Miller, whose three-run homer wiped out a 2-0 deficit. "This hasn't been an easy season, but the guys in this clubhouse continue to fight every game and play hard."

Minnesota, meanwhile, is streaking behind the hot bat of catcher Joe Mauer. The 2009 AL Most Valuable Player was 10-for-18 (.556) with five doubles, a triple and a home run during the four-game series against the Indians. He finished a home run shy of a cycle Tuesday during a 13-5 win over Cleveland.

"I've been really staying on that back leg, driving the ball," Mauer said. "I've been a little bit more sore, but it's been feeling good getting results."

For the Rays, it is Miller providing the big bat. He has homered in the past two games. The surge began days after Tampa Bay acquired third baseman Matt Duffy from the San Francisco Giants at the trade deadline with the plan of making him the full-time shortstop. Duffy is on the disabled list due to strained left Achilles.

So while Miller will have to change positions, likely to first base, his bat will still be in the lineup.

"I don't think they have kept me in the lineup to do me any sort of favors," Miller said. "I've earned my spot and earned the opportunity to play every day. I played shortstop (Thursday), and that's what I prepared for. I'll have to play wherever they move me."

The Rays will send rookie left-hander Blake Snell (3-4, 3.08 ERA) to the mound for the series opener Friday.

Snell has pitched more than five innings in each of his past seven starts and has won two of his past three, including a 5-3 victory against the New York Yankees on Sunday. In that start, he matched his career high with nine strikeouts, and he yielded two runs in 5 1/3 innings.

He will oppose the Twins for the first time in his career.

Minnesota will counter with right hander Ervin Santana, who has made three quality starts in a row and five in his past six outings. Santana (4-9, 3.66 ERA) won his last start on Sunday, a 6-4 victory against the Chicago White Sox, giving up three runs (one earned) over six innings.

Santana lost his only start against the Rays this season, giving up five runs over six innings in a 7-4 loss at Target Field in June 4. In 16 career starts against Tampa Bay, he is 6-7 with a 5.48 ERA.