That excitement that Twins fans feel in the air this weekend, with a postseason berth at stake? Have no doubt, the players feel it, too.
“When you’re on the field, it’s all business. But when you’re in the dugout, you look around and think, this is pretty big,” said Twins second baseman Brian Dozier.
Agreed manager Paul Moltor, “It’s certainly a lot of fun to have meaningful games [on] the last weekend of the season.”
That’s even true for the Royals, though manager Ned Yost made it clear that his mind is on the start of the playoffs next Thursday, too. At 92-67, the Royals and Blue Jays are tied for the best record in the American League, which would determine home-field advantage in the event they meet in the ALCS later this month. Which would be great, Yost said — but it’s not the Royals’ goal at the moment.
“Do we want it? Yeah, we want to have the best record. But we want to make sure the guys are ready on Thursday, that’s the biggest priority,” Yost said. To that end, he is sitting three of his regulars out tonight. Catcher Salvador Perez gets the night off since he’ll catch tomorrow’s noon game. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales has a tight quad, but could pinch-hit tonight if necessary. And center fielder Lorenzo Cain’s knee is still sore after fouling a ball off of it two days ago; Yost said he expects Cain to play tomorrow.
That all means tonight is a game the Twins need to take advantage of, and they’re aware of that. One game behind the Astros — who will use ace Dallas Keuchel tonight in Phoenix — with three to play means the Twins probably need to sweep the series. Don’t expect the Royals to simply allow it to happen.
“We’re playing the Twins and they’re right in the thick of it,” Yost said. “You’ve got to continue to compete hard against them out of fairness to everybody else that’s in it.”
Ervin Santana, on a hot streak, starts for the Twins. Chris Young, who allowed only one hit over 6 1/3 innings in his last visit to Target Field in June, lost his spot in the rotation in August, but has been pitching well out of the bullpen and last Sunday pitched five scoreless innings against the Indians, goes for the Royals.
A full house is expected. Here are the lineups for tonight’s critical first game: