CLEVELAND – The challenge of passing two teams in six days to claim the second wild card spot is tough enough for the Twins. Now their pitching plans have to be ripped up.
The Twins-Indians game on Tuesday was rained out after a 1 hour, 10 minute delay. The teams will return to Progressive Field on Wednesday and play a traditional doubleheader, with game one starting at 3:10 p.m. and the second game starting about 30 minutes after the completion of the first game. It’s the last thing the Twins needed.
‘‘It’s just part of it, man,’’ third baseman Trevor Plouffe said. ‘‘This season has been nothing but strange. But they all have challenges.’’
And some would say it’s strange that the Twins are hanging around the wild-card race during the final week of the season. The Astros lost on Tuesday night, but the Angels won, swapping places with Houston for the second wild-card spot but leaving the Twins still a game-and-a-half back. This is setting up to be a wild race for that second wild card and it could end with tiebreaker games being played Monday.
But the Twins have to do their part — win, and do nothing else but win — in order for that to happen. And they will be tested Wednesday.
Last season, the Twins played traditional doubleheaders twice during the same road trip — one in Cleveland on Sept. 11 and one in Chicago on Sept. 13.
They were swept in both.
That, however, was near the end of a 70-win season. This year’s team already has won 81 games, one win shy of its first winning season since 2010. And there’s a lot more at stake this year.
‘‘It’s hard to win one game, you know,’’ Twins manager Paul Molitor said. ‘‘I’m sure there’s statistics and all those things that support various theories on doubleheaders on the road. Can’t worry about those things, have to look at it as two opportunities to win.
‘‘Doesn’t change what we need to do.’’
Righthander Kyle Gibson will start the first game and be opposed by righthander Carlos Carrasco. In his last outing, Carrasco threw a one-hitter at division-champion Kansas City with 15 strikeouts.
Righthander Mike Pelfrey will start the second game and face righthander Cody Anderson. Pelfrey might be making his final regular start as a Twin. A free agent after the season, the Twins will have several options for their 2016 bullpen and could let Pelfrey, 6-10 with a 4.09 ERA, sign elsewhere.
Pelfrey is relieved that he has been healthy all season after making only five starts a year ago because of injuries. But he knows what the Twins’ decision could be.
‘‘I like it here and I like the guys,’’ Pelfrey said. ‘‘I would like to come back if they would have me. But how does it play out with guaranteed contracts and you have prospects. You have [Jose] Berrios. You have [Tyler] Duffey. They want to get [Trevor] May back in the rotation. Not a lot of spots.
‘‘I’ve enjoyed my time here and I’d love to come back. But that’s the way it goes. Don’t try to think too much of it.’’
But maybe it won’t be his last start if the Twins can play past Sunday. He would be in line to start a potential tiebreaker game on Monday or the wild-card game on Tuesday.
‘‘It would be pretty exciting,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m getting excited saying that.’’
The rainout creates more questions about the rotation. Now pushed back a day, Gibson will be unable to start the season finale Sunday.
Some combination of Phil Hughes and Tommy Milone now look in line to start the final two games of the regular season. Gibson and Pelfrey would be options for the tiebreaker, if there is one, or the wild card game.
Molitor might announce his plans for the final two games of the Royals series Wednesday.
Hughes was scratched from his start Monday because of illness but felt better Tuesday and should be available for the weekend.
Mother Nature is the latest reason Molitor has had to plan his rotation in pencil.
‘‘The obvious questions will be how it plays into the weekend if games stay meaningful, which I hope they do,’’ Molitor said. ‘‘It just kinda changes how things shape up as we get to Sunday. We’ll have options. Right now, we’ll have [Gibson and Pelfrey] tomorrow, Duff [Tyler Duffey] on Thursday and Ervin [Santana] on Friday. And then we’ll have to figure out what to do Saturday and Sunday.”