The Twins’ clubhouse was full of boxes and duffel bags before the game, as the chore of planning for the playoffs has been replaced by packing for home. The Twins cancelled batting practice, turned up the music in the clubhouse and said a lot of see-you-next-years. The Royals, still waiting to learn who their first-round opponent will be on Thursday, are all business, taking batting practice and getting set for their final tune-up, with their regular lineup planning to play.
Johnny Cueto will be on the mound today for Kansas City, his final tuneup for the postseason, and he’ll face a Twins lineup that looks like nothing that’s come before. Max Kepler, the Twins' minor-league player of the year, gets his first major-league start, batting third in front of former Chattanooga teammate Miguel Sano. Only Sano and Eduardo Escobar, among the Twins’ usual nine starters, are in the lineup today, and Escobar is moving over to second base in order to let Danny Santana play shortstop.
Kennys Vargas is in the lineup, too, his first start since Sept. 9, and Byron Buxton will lead off. It’s a chance for Paul Molitor to get a look at a bunch of players who might (or might not) be a huge part of the Twins in the future. On the mound, for at least a couple of innings, is Ricky Nolasco, making his first start since May 31.
Molitor spoke before the game about how rewarding the season has been for him, how much he’s learned, and how much he believes his team has learned. The coaching staff is responsible for the teaching, and Molitor said he hopes and expects the entire coaching staff will return for 2016. He was particularly enthused about the relationship he developed right away with pitching coach Neil Allen.
All 15 major-league games today will start at the same time, 2 p.m. Central, in order to maximize pennant-race drama, but there really isn’t much left. Kansas City wants to win in order to clinch the league’s best record and home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. The Royals are one game ahead of Toronto, but the Jays own the tiebreaker.
Houston plays in Phoenix, and a win would clinch the final playoff berth — and combined with a Texas loss to the Angels, would create a tie for the AL West title and give them a chance to avoid Tuesday’s wild-card game. The Angels can force a one-game playoff with a win and an Astros loss, while the Rangers are obviously trying to hang on to their division title.
Here are the lineups for this season’s final game at Target Field: