CLEVELAND — Rocco Baldelli denies it, but if you looked at the Twins’ lineup today, you might think Minnesota had clinched the AL Central championship last night.
And OK, they sort of did. With a 5 1/2 game lead and only 14 games left, even if the Twins win only half of their games against the Royals (seven remain) and Tigers (three), teams headed for 100-loss seasons, and no other games, the Indians would need to go 10-3 just to force a one-game playoff. Yeah, Saturday’s doubleheader was that decisive.
The Twins didn’t celebrate afterward, there were no champagne showers or anything. But as if to practice for when there are, many of the Twins’ veterans are sitting out today’s series finale at Progressive Field.
The list starts with Jose Berrios, of course, who was supposed to face Shane Bieber in what would have been quite a showdown had the teams split on Saturday, or the Twins’ best chance of salvaging a win had the doubleheader gone badly. Instead, Baldelli has the righthander on a six-day pace as they head to the postseason, a schedule that helped Berrios work out of a slump last year that sort of resembled this year’s.
Then there’s the lineup: No Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler, Mitch Garver or Jorge Polanco. Jake Cave returns from his groin injury, Willians Astudillo gives the regular catchers a day off, and Ronald Torreyes gets his first start as a Twin. Baldelli said the spring-training lineup had more to do with injuries than the AL Central standings, but let’s just say that yesterday’s results gave him plenty more options Sunday.
The Twins still want to win Sunday’s game, which for one thing, would give them the season series for the first time since 2015; they are 9-9 against Cleveland right now. Doing so would probably require tagging Bieber with more runs than he’s accustomed to giving up. The Indians’ righthander has allowed more than three runs in a start only once since early June.
But they have the luxury of shrugging it off if they don’t.
Here are the lineups for today’s series finale: