The Twins will open the playoffs at Target Field for the first time since 2010, that much they accomplished o Saturday. But there is still work to be done Sunday.
Luis Arraez collected four hits in his first game since Sept. 8, three of them doubles, and Minnesota battered Cincinnati 7-3 at Target Field. The victory insures that the Twins, who still hold a one-game lead over the White Sox in the AL Central, will be one of the top four seeds in the AL playoffs and thus will host all three games of a first-round series beginning Tuesday.
“You want everything that you can possibly have in your favor,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We’re very comfortable, we’ve enjoyed playing here at Target Field. So we’ll take these games here very happily.”
There’s still something to play for in the season finale Sunday, though. Explained reliever Taylor Rogers, “I look at that 2019 [AL Central championship] banner a lot up there at the stadium. It’d be nice to put another one up there.”
The Twins have clinched a share of that title, but the White Sox (35-24) can still tie the Twins (36-23) for the first place with a win over the Cubs and a Twins’ loss to the Reds on Sunday. Chicago, by virtue of its better record among AL Central teams, would claim the No. 2 seed in the AL playoffs, dropping the Twins to No. 4 — and a first-round meeting with the New York Yankees, who have beaten them in 13 straight postseason games.
Still, Saturday’s victory was a handy tune-up for the playoffs: A showcase for Arraez’s strong return, for Max Kepler’s resurgence, for Michael Pineda’s fortitude to work out of trouble, and the bullpen’s continued dominance. All will be critical come Tuesday, whether their opponent is the Yankees, Blue Jays, White Sox, Indians or Astros — all still mathematically possibilities.
“I don’t have any particular team that I want to face,” said Pineda, a former Yankee who is scheduled to pitch in his first postseason game Thursday, if necessary. “Whatever team I have to face, Big Mike wants to be ready.”
The Twins may have wondered whether Little Luis, the on-base spark plug for the Twins’ homer-heavy offense, would be ready.
They need not worry. Arraez drilled line drives to all parts of the ballpark after being activated earlier in the day, and all four hits produced runs.
“I almost feel bad,” Rogers deadpanned, “because he had a heck of a day and all of us are like, ‘That’s a regular Arraez day.’"
After a first-inning hustle double to right-center in which he showed no problems running, Arraez scored on Nelson Cruz’s two-out single. His liner to the base of the left-field wall in the third inning scored Kepler and put him in position to score on Eddie Rosario’s double. A screamer to left-center in the fifth scored Kepler again, and in the seventh, Arraez came to the plate with a chance to join Kirby Puckett as the only Twins player ever to double four times in a game.
Instead, he singled down the right-field line, driving in Ehire Adrianza.
“That’s me. That’s Luis Arraez,” the second baseman said. “I like to spray the ball all over the field. I’m grateful that I’m healthy and back in the lineup with my teammates. I missed them all.”
The Twins were held without a home run for the second straight night, but it matters little when you rack up eight doubles, just one off the team record.
Pineda threw 80 pitches over four innings and escaped from a couple of jams, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks. And the Twins’ bullpen held Cincinnati to one run over the final five innings, with Rogers striking out six-time All-Star Joey Votto on a 3-2 curveball with the bases loaded.
“It was a big moment in the game,” Baldelli said. “Those are the situations that we want Rog in there for.”