It's been a long career in Minnesota for Joe Mauer. Of his dozen years in a Twins uniform, the last four probably seemed like an eternity.
However, meaningful September games are back on the schedule with Minnesota a surprise postseason contender.
Mauer will try to help his team pull closer to the wild card while closing in on a career-long streak of his own as the Twins continue a home series against the last-place Detroit Tigers Tuesday night.
A 7-1 victory in the series opener gave the Twins (75-68) wins in four of five and helped them remain one game behind Texas for the AL's second wild card. That's surprising given Minnesota's four previous seasons, averaging 66.3 wins and finishing in last place in the Central three times.
Mauer is on pace to pass his career high of 147 games played after averaging 116.5 over the last two years. He went 3 for 5 in the opener to extend his on-base streak to 34 games, two shy of his career long.
"At this point in the season, the less days off, the better," Mauer told MLB's official website. "If you can't get up for a postseason run, then something is wrong. It's an exciting time. It's good to be playing meaningful games in September again."
Minnesota dropped eight of its first 10 games against Detroit this season but has won each of the last four. The most recent victory featured six runs in the first two innings after the Tigers (65-78) left the bases loaded in the opening frame.
"It's like taking a punch to the gut early," manager Brad Ausmus said. "You hope something sparks you along the way."
Phil Hughes was 8-2 with a 3.91 ERA at Target Field before landing on the 15-day disabled list in mid-August with lower back inflammation. The right-hander will make his first start since Aug. 9 for the Twins, who are expected to hold him to 75-80 pitches after he did not make a rehab start.
Hughes (10-8, 4.49 ERA) did not fare well against the Tigers in three starts before his injury, going 1-1 with a 6.19 ERA. He has given up 15 home runs in 15 career starts against Detroit, pitching to a 7-7 record and 4.48 ERA.
Miguel Cabrera is 0 for 11 in his last three games, but still leads the majors with a .339 average. He stands a good chance to raise that number since he's batting .472 with five homers and five doubles in 36 career at-bats against Hughes.
Minnesota, which plays 12 of its final 19 games at home, has had mixed results in two games this season against Alfredo Simon. The right-hander limited them to one run over 7 2/3 innings before leaving without a decision in Detroit's 2-1 win on May 12, but lasted a season-low 2 1/3 innings in a 9-5 loss at Target Field on July 11, yielding seven runs and 10 hits.
Simon (12-9, 4.94) has been up and down since his most recent start against Minnesota. He's 4-3 with a 5.61 ERA in his last 10 outings, allowing four or more runs seven times and one or less in the other three.
The swings have been more exaggerated in his last five, starting with a one-hit shutout. Simon then gave up 14 runs in two losses, followed by seven scoreless innings in a win, and finally five runs in 6 2/3 of a defeat.
Kurt Suzuki is 5 for 11 against Simon with two home runs.