If you haven’t noticed, the Twins prefer to give righthander Kenta Maeda five days off between starts. You can’t really blame them when Maeda goes 5-1 with a 2.55 ERA and has been one of the better pitchers in the league.
So follow the pattern. Maeda will face the Tigers on Wednesday in his final start of the season. With another five days off, his next outing would then be Sept. 29, or Game 1 of the wild-card playoff series.
The code has been cracked: The Twins already have Maeda in line to start the first game of the postseason.
The final week of the regular season will be a frantic one for the Twins, who are trying to host a first-round, best-of-three series by way of overtaking the White Sox for the AL Central title or securing the league’s No. 4 seed as the second-place team with the best record.
Home field is vital for the Twins, who are 21-5 at Target Field heading into Tuesday’s game against the Tigers but were 12-17 on the road. A first-round matchup against the Yankees, who have beaten the Twins 13 consecutive times in playoff games, seems destined, either at Target Field or Yankee Stadium.
The Twins will spend this final week setting up the rotation and making other roster decisions for the playoffs. There will be difficult choices for the 28-man roster and even tougher conversations with some pitchers who will want the ball — or at least want to be on the roster.
“Nothing has been decided in almost any way at this point,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “But it’s one of those things whenever we have a little break or whenever we have time, there are a number of different things in all parts of our roster that need to be discussed.
“We don’t know who we’re going to be playing yet. Until we’re certain on that, we have a lot of different things to prepare for. We’ll take it day by day. This will be a discussion that probably will not end until the regular season does.”
Maeda, then Berrios?
Last year, the Twins kept 12 pitchers on the postseason roster (then limited to 25 players) for their best-of-five series, which included an off day, against the Yankees, who swept them.
There are no off days in the first three rounds of the playoffs this year. Teams advancing from the best-of-three series will then play best-of-fives in the Division Series to get to the best-of-seven Championship Series. The World Series has one off day.
The final three rounds are at bubbles in Texas and California.
No matter who the Twins play or where, Maeda seems to have lived up to the promise that came when he was acquired from the Dodgers before the season. He and Jose Berrios have earned their chances to be part of the rotation.
Berrios is 4-0 with a 2.14 ERA over his past six outings with flashes of better command. He was the Game 1 starter a year ago, giving up three runs over three innings against the Yankees, and should be eager for another postseason opportunity. With Maeda having a strong season, there’s little chance Berrios starts Game 1. But the pressure would be on in Game 2 if the Twins lose the opener.
Michael Pineda is probably in line for Game 3. Pineda is 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA in four starts since coming off a suspension for violating the league’s drug policy. He stepped right into the rotation and looks as if he belongs. His pitches have been sharp and his control has been good. He was allowed to work out in St. Paul during the completion of his suspension and built up his endurance.
If the Twins play the Yankees, the story line will be Pineda facing his former team. And, if the series happens in New York, Pineda would dodge a huge bullet with no fans in the stands.
Lefthander Rich Hill is also in the starting mix and had his best outing of the year Friday night against the Cubs. But the Twins might eye him for a bullpen role, where he has extensive experience. But that’s potentially one of the tough conversations Baldelli could face, as Hill has pitched in 13 postseason games.
“I think with the amount of postseason experience that I’ve had and the way that I’ve thrown the ball in the postseason obviously speaks for itself and also being able to do it on the biggest stage, which is the World Series,” Hill said after Saturday’s outing, “but that has no place or relevance in the moment and the time of right now. I am such a believer of taking a hot hand and using that and riding that as long as you can. Experience is obviously a huge attribute and a huge positive for many of us but at the same time, you have to be throwing the ball well in the moment.”
Jake Odorizzi has made only four starts all season as he’s battled a muscle strain in his side, took a line drive off his chest and, on Wednesday, left his outing early because of a cut on his middle finger.
Odorizzi was an All-Star a year ago and started Game 3 of the 2019 ALDS against the Yankees, giving up two runs over five innings. He pitched like a man on a mission until he left Wednesday’s game and was put on the 10-day injured list for the third time this season. He’s pitched only 13 innings in 2020, not winning a game.
If the Twins advance to the ALDS, they could play five games in five days and need a five-man rotation — likely Maeda, Berrios, Pineda, Hill and Odorizzi.
Speaking of wild cards, there’s a chance righthander Homer Bailey is activated this week and given a chance to pitch as the regular season winds down. But his best role looks to be out of the bullpen after making just one start all season because of biceps tendinitis.
The tough-luck story is righthander Randy Dobnak, who was sharp at the beginning of the season when the Twins really needed him. But he has an 8.27 ERA over his past four starts, was optioned to the St. Paul camp and is in danger of not being on the first-round postseason roster after starting Game 2 against the Yankees last year.
La Velle E. Neal III has covered the Twins and Major League Baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998.