The Twins played in their 57th game of the season on Wednesday. They have had their first-choice lineup on the field in just two of those games.
And it would surprise no one if that carried into the postseason.
While shortstop Jorge Polanco returned to the lineup Wednesday after sitting out a game because of a mildly sore ankle, designated hitter Nelson Cruz missed his fourth game because of a sore right knee.
Despite not having Cruz, the Twins entered Wednesday on a three-game winning streak that pulled them within one-half game of the White Sox in the AL Central race. Things could have been easier Tuesday if Cruz had been in the lineup, but the Twins managed a 5-4, 10-inning win without him.
So when is Cruz coming back? Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said Cruz did some running before Wednesday’s game and getting closer to a return.
“I’d really like to not put Nellie in a position where he’s going out there and can’t be himself,” Baldelli said, “where he’s going out there in the last week of the season as we’re getting ready to play playoff baseball and pushing his leg in a way where we’re don’t really need to at this point.”
Baldelli is a rest and recovery maven, but trying to balance that in the heat of a playoff battle — the Yankees began play Wednesday 1½ games behind them for the fourth seed — can be tricky.
At least Cruz was visible in the dugout Tuesday, throwing his Rally Robe on the shoulders of whomever hit a home run. So the knee can’t be all that bad.
“Yes, we want to win the division,” Baldelli said. “Yes, we want to put our best club out there, and Nellie is certainly a prominent member of our best lineup when we’re putting it out there. But if we ever put him out there at less than 100% and it set him back at all, I think we would all regret it. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to give him another day.
“I’ll tell you this; with him being on his feet, with him testing it out and running, he’s going to be available to hit.”
Baldelli, sort of, confirmed that his rotation for the first round of the playoffs will consist of Kenta Maeda starting Game 1 and be followed by Jose Berrios in Game 2 and Michael Pineda in Game 3.
The three righthanders pretty much were the favorites to pitch in the wild-card series, especially once righthander Jake Odorizzi had his candidacy spoiled by a blister on his middle finger.
“Obviously, we’re not going to make any official announcements, “Baldelli said, “but what we’re looking at, it’s going to be difficult to make any changes. We don’t want to make any changes. I think we’re lined up very well right now with the guys we have going Wednesday, Friday, Saturday [of this week]. It’s a great trio to be throwing out there.”
If the Twins get past the first round, Odorizzi and lefthander Rich Hill loom as the favorites to be added to the rotation for the AL Division Series, which could be five games with no off-days.
The one pitch Taylor Rogers wished he had back Tuesday was the breaking ball he threw to Miguel Cabrera in the 10th inning that floated off the plate and was hit to right for a single.
“I wanted it in,” Rogers said. “That was the mistake.”
It was the latest in a season that has baffled Rogers. His strikeout rate of 11.1 per nine innings is close to last year’s 11.7. His walk rate is 1.9, based on four walks over 18⅔ innings. But he’s getting hit to the tune of 12.1 hits per nine innings, well up from 7.6 last season.
“Up to this point it’s the same thing — trying to always get better with location and make the slider a little sharper or anything like that I’m still trying to continue to improve everything each day, refine things, just as I would in every other year,” said Rogers, who is 2-4 with a 4.34 ERA and nine saves in 11 opportunities. ‘‘Just continuing to keep the nose to the grindstone. One of these days I feel like things will turn around a little bit.’’
Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano were among players on Wednesday to wear caps with the date 9-23-1956 on the side. It is to honor Ozzie Virgil on the day he became the first player from the Dominican Republic to reach the major leagues.