Liriano strikes out 11 as streaking Twins pitch shutout

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins rediscovered their swagger against two of the worst teams in the AL.

Next up, 10 road games in 11 days -- including matchups with two of the best clubs in the league.

"We kind of know the secret here," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Sunday after his squad completed a three-game home sweep of the last-place Seattle Mariners. "Catch the ball, your starters go deep in the game, and it gives you an opportunity."

Playing without sluggers Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, the streaking Twins beat the Mariners 4-0 for the second consecutive day thanks to Francisco Liriano's 11 strikeouts, Jason Kubel's three-run double in the sixth and two scoreless innings from the bullpen. They won their eighth straight and completed their second straight series sweep to remain a half-game behind the first-place Chicago White Sox in the AL Central.

"We'll take it," Gardenhire said. "A nice homestand. A short one, but a nice one."

The Twins have won 10 of 11 overall, all against teams with losing records. But now they head to Tampa Bay for four games and then Cleveland for three. They'll wrap up the road trip in Chicago.

"We're doing everything right now. We're hitting pretty good, we're pitching pretty well," Liriano said. "So we've just got to keep playing the way we're playing and we'll be OK."

Easier said than done on the road, where Minnesota is 26-26. But if the starting pitching continues to hold up, the Twins could return to Minneapolis with the division lead.

Liriano's 11 strikeouts matched a season high. He went seven innings to extend his shutout streak to 21. He has allowed only two runs in his last 28 2/3 innings since giving up seven runs in less than two innings at Detroit on July 9.

The left-hander looked dominant early, striking out the side in the second and fourth. The Mariners mounted their only real threat against him in the fifth when they had runners at the corners with two outs. But Liriano (10-7) induced Ichiro Suzuki into a weak comebacker.

"He kept our hitters off balance. When you have his stuff and you're on and you're hitting your spots, it's pretty tough to hit a guy like that," Seattle's Michael Saunders said.

Kubel ended an 0-for-13 slide with a bases-clearing double in the sixth inning. Danny Valencia followed with an RBI single.

"That was basically the game right there, that inning," Kubel said.

Jon Rauch threw a scoreless eighth and Matt Guerrier set the Mariners down in order in the ninth.

Luke French (0-2) made his second start of the season for Seattle and held his own against a Twins lineup lacking its two biggest stars. French held Minnesota scoreless through five innings before getting into trouble in the sixth.

"He was pretty effective all day long," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "You take the 1-2 pitch away, really, to give up three runs on one pitch is a lot of the damage."

French gave up a single to Alexi Casilla and a bloop double to Delmon Young in the sixth. Michael Cuddyer was intentionally walked to load the bases for Kubel, who just missed his third grand slam of the season.

The Mariners, who managed three runs in the series, lost their seventh in a row and fell to 15-39 on the road.

"When the whole team's not swinging the bat well and we're not getting on base, we're just putting too much pressure on our pitching staff to continue to put up zeros," Russell Branyan said. "Sooner or later, they're going to break. ... As hitters, we have to wake up."

Game notes
Seattle has used 27 different lineups in its last 27 games. ... Young has an 11-game hitting streak. ... Morneau sat in the dugout for the whole game -- the first time he's done so since sustaining a concussion on July 7. The 2006 AL MVP took batting practice indoors Sunday instead of on the field, as originally planned. Gardenhire said Morneau wanted to wait until the team left for its upcoming road trip before hitting outdoors again. "He wants to just kind of ease into it," Gardenhire said. "He didn't want to be center stage. He got his work in. He feels good." ... Gardenhire said Mauer was feeling some soreness in his right shoulder after receiving a cortisone shot the night before, although he said the reigning AL MVP might be available to DH on Monday at Tampa Bay. ... Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu held out 3B Jose Lopez (hamstring) again as a precaution. He said Lopez would likely play during the team's nine-game homestand.