TORONTO — By beating the A’s on Monday, May 4, the Twins moved into a tie with Tampa Bay, at 14-12, for the second wild card spot in the American League. Exactly three months later, the Twins must win tonight or relinquish that postseason berth, at least for a day.
The Twins have managed to hold on to at least a tie for the wild card spot for three months, even through a seven-loss-in-eight-games slump in June, even through a 1-4 start to the second half. But their current 2-7 skid has allowed Toronto and Baltimore to pull into a tie with the Twins, who enter tonight’s second game of this four-game series in Rogers Centre with, at least, their hottest starting pitcher on the mound.
Phil Hughes has won six straight decisions, and if they haven’t all been gems — including his “five-and-dive” victory over Seattle last Thursday — at least the righthander has made a habit of keeping the Twins in games. But beware: Hughes’ AL-leading 25 home runs allowed makes him vulnerable against a power-laden Jays team.
“It’s a challenging lineup to face, regardless of who you throw out there to start the game,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “Phil’s last start was not particularly as good. The good thing was that he didn’t have to throw a lot of pitches.”
Yes, Hughes should be fresh, having thrown only 84 pitches last week in giving up 10 hits and five runs to the Mariners. The Twins will face Marco Estrada, an inconsistent righthander who has never started against the Twins.
Joe Mauer returns to the Twins’ lineup tonight, batting second, while Eduardo Nunez takes over at shortstop for at least one game.
Toronto manager John Gibbons has been suspended for one game and will not be in the Rogers Centre tonight. He received the penalty for returning to the field in the eighth inning Sunday when both benches cleared against the Royals, after having been ejected in the seventh inning. DeMarlo Hale, one of the finalists for Molitor’s job last winter, will be in charge of the Toronto dugout. Does that affect tonight’s game? Molitor smiled.
“You know managers don’t make any difference,” he said.
Here are tonight’s lineups: