Entering their final extended homestand of the year, the Boston Red Sox know reaching the postseason remains a tall task.
Manager Alex Cora still believes his group is up for the challenge.
"For us, nothing is impossible in this game," Cora said. "We're very talented. That's the same group that won a World Series. Obviously, it hasn't happened the way we wanted, but I've been saying it all along: There's different ways to get to the World Series. We took the difficult route, and we're ready for it."
Difficult is the best way to describe what the Red Sox have ahead for them as they welcome a pair of division leaders over the next seven days. It begins Tuesday, as the Minnesota Twins visit for the start of a three-game series.
Right-hander Rick Porcello (12-10, 5.42 ERA) will kick off the pivotal stretch on the mound for Boston. Minnesota will counter with right-hander Randy Dobnak (0-0, 0.00), who will make his first major league start.
The American League Central-leading Twins enter red-hot, having won eight of their last nine. After Minnesota, the Red Sox will welcome the AL East-leading New York Yankees for four games -- their last series against their rivals this season.
While Boston was off Monday, Minnesota edged the Detroit Tigers 4-3 in a Labor Day matinee. Max Kepler hit a go-ahead, two-run single in the eighth inning to key the comeback victory.
Earlier in the contest, Ehire Adrianza hit a two-run home run, extending the Twins' major league record total as a club this year to 269.
"Not every game is going to come with home runs and with margins of victory and things like that," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said following the narrow victory. "The fact that our guys just kept playing hard -- we're well into a road trip right now, and our guys found a way to get it done. We got it done."
Minnesota has gone 6-1 on its 10-game trip that ends in Boston before the Twins return home to face the Cleveland Indians, who are second in the AL Central.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, trail the Oakland Athletics, Indians and Tampa Bay Rays in the wild-card race. They are five games behind the Indians, who hold the second wild card. Boston's remaining slate includes what could be a season-defining four-game set at Tampa Bay from Sept. 20-22.
The Red Sox and Twins met in June, with Boston winning two of three at Minnesota.
In that series, Porcello enjoyed one of his best starts of the year, shutting the Twins out over seven innings and striking out eight. Against Minnesota, Porcello is 13-10 with a 3.69 ERA over 32 career starts.
Entering the final month of the worst season of his career, Porcello is coming off an August in which he showed improvement at 3-2 with a 4.00 ERA over 27 innings.
Dobnak, 24, gets his first starting nod after three scoreless appearances out of the bullpen to begin his big league career. He isn't expected to pitch deep into the game after throwing 70 pitches across his last two outings, both coming since Aug. 29.
Dobnak will pitch in place of ace right-hander Jose Berrios, whose start was pushed back a day to Wednesday.