Castillo, Twins Need Solid Roadtrip

Castillo extended his hit streak on Thursday.

In this edition of Twins Inside Pitch, Luis Castillo and Nick Punto each extend their hitting streaks, the Twins take their show on a crucial road-trip, by winning 36 of their first 47 home games the Twins set a franchise record, and so much more.

So the Twins won seven straight games at home the first eight days after the All-Star break.

So what?

So what have they done lately on the road? That's the focus for this team after they beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays Thursday to sweep a four-game series before heading back on the road for three games each at Cleveland and Chicago.

And that could be the key to the entire season for a team that got off to a slow start and, despite turning it around over the past six weeks, still has not proven it can win on the road.

"These next two series on the road are a big test for us," Joe Nathan said.

How big? The Twins trail Detroit by 9 1/2 games for the division lead and Chicago by four for the wild-card lead. And they're heading into two cities where they haven't won yet this year (0-6 combined) -- with Detroit waiting at the Metrodome at the conclusion of the trip.

"We're definitely a better ballclub now (than when they were swept by the Indians and White Sox in April)," manager Ron Gardenhire said, "so we should fare better on the road. But you still have to prove you can do it."

REPLAY:
Johan Santana (11-5) didn't have his best stuff, but he pitched well enough for six innings to twirl a quality start and beat the Devil Rays 6-4 on Thursday for the Twins' seventh straight victory -- the longest current streak in the majors.

The Twins went 7-1 on their post-break opening homestand against Cleveland and Tampa Bay to improve the majors' best home record to 37-11 and reach a season high-water mark of 14 games over .500 overall.

"I think I had the worst performance of the starting pitchers in this series, and yet we still ended up with a win," said the All-Star Santana, who walked three and gave up two hits in the D-Rays' two-run fifth that put Tampa ahead 3-1. "Whatever it takes for you to keep winning and winning, that's all that matters."

NOTES:

  • 3B Nick Punto (13 games) and 2B Luis Castillo (14) both extended their hitting streaks Thursday. For Punto, it's a career-best streak, and he's hit safely in 20 of 21 games.

  • CF Torii Hunter, who continued Thursday to express optimism that he can return from his stress fracture within the 15-day DL minimum, was to return home to Texas on Friday to do rehab work and return to the Twin Cities in a week, ready to start baseball activity, when the team returns from its road trip.

  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Twins' 36 victories in their first 47 home games (now 37-of-48) established a franchise record. The last time a team in the majors won 36 of its first 47 home games was 1998 when two teams did it -- the two eventual pennant winners. That year, the New York Yankees went 39-8 in their first 47, and the San Diego Padres went 36-11.

  • LF Shannon Stewart, whose left foot injury could be season-ending, stayed behind as the team departed for Cleveland for the start of a six-game road trip, and he's scheduled to undergo therapy and treatment after a few days of rest in an attempt to return to the active roster before the end of the season.

    LI>The Twins this past week announced one of the more off-beat promotions in team history: Joe Mauer Sideburns Night, in which the first 10,000 fans through the turnstiles for their Aug. 10 game will receive a set of stick-on, replica Mauer sideburns. "I don't know why everybody is so into my sideburns," he told MLB.com.

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