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This week's series against the first-place White Sox will serve as a tough test for this Twins team. They've rebounded after a lousy start to go 13-10 over their last 23 games, remaining on the periphery of an AL Central race that no club seems poised to run away with. In three days, the Twins could conceivably be within 5.5 games of first place. They could also find themselves out of it by double digits.
Perhaps no one will be under a bigger microscope in this crucial showdown than Francisco Liriano. He's been great since returning to the rotation at the end of May, posting a 2.67 ERA and 35-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30 1/3 innings while allowing only one home run, but his opponents in those five starts have been the Athletics, Royals, Cubs, Brewers and Pirates. Those teams rank 28th, 19th, 25th, 10th and 29th in the majors in OPS, respectively.
Liriano has been feasting on weak competition, for the most part, and on Monday he'll be matching up against a first-place team with a starter in Jake Peavy who has been flat-out excellent all year.
It would be a stretch to say the Twins are even on the fringes of contention at this point, but they're not out of it. Climbing back into the mix would require a continued transformation from the rotation, and Liriano will need to be one of the guys leading that charge.
Both he and the team will have a chance to make a statement at Target Field on Monday night.