The Minnesota Twins controlled their own destiny: A win over the Cincinnati Reds guaranteed an American League Central title. They also had the option of getting help from potential first-round opponents and division rivals if they lost. It turns out that the Twins needed the help after a 5-3 loss on Sunday.
Minnesota won its second consecutive division title thanks to the Chicago Cubs holding off the White Sox comeback in the final innings of the regular season. The Twins came into the final day with one of three potential finishes. The one the team emphasized over the course of the last seven days, winning the division, came true. The benefit of that? Minnesota doesn’t have to face the New York Yankees in the first round.
None of the Twins’ fortunes can be attributed to one single game, though. Thanks to five wins in the team’s final seven games, Minnesota has the privilege of having home field advantage in the first round. Minnesota can also thank Cleveland for sweeping the White Sox a week ago. That sweep allowed them to leapfrog Chicago for the division lead.
Specifically, though, the final series against Cincinnati almost dismantled Minnesota’s drive for success. The Twins lost two of three and saw a bit of everything that has characterized their season — except a single home run.
Pitching Battles Significant in Each Game
Minnesota rolled with Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda and Rich Hill in the finale. Two of those three will be included as starters in the first round: While Kenta Maeda earned a Game 1 start, followed by Berrios and Pineda.
Berrios didn’t have his best outing of the season on Friday. While he rattled off four quality starts to start September with a 3-0 record, the game against the Reds was a slow burn until he was pulled. Berrios gave up five hits and four runs in five innings. Two of those hits were home runs. In addition, he had seven strikeouts and two walks on 81 pitches, his shortest outing since the first game of the season.
Additionally, call-up Edwar Colina made his MLB debut and struggled in relief. He recorded one out and gave up four hits and two walks for three runs, while Cincinnati’s early-game combo of Tyler Mahle and Michael Lorenzen kept the Twins to just two runs through the first 5 2/3 innings.
The next game, the roles were flipped. Pineda made it through four innings and allowed four hits and two runs. He struck out four and walked three in his 80 pitches. For the Reds, Luis Castillo gave up four runs in four innings and Anthony DeSclafani gave up three runs in three innings.
Minnesota’s relievers preserving the Twins lead on Saturday. Four of the Minnesota’s heavily relied on bullpen arms saw action, each of them lasted an inning or longer, but only one gave up a run en route to the victory.
On Sunday, Hill got a stingy pitching duel started against Cincinnati’s Sonny Gray. Hill made it through 5 2/3 innings allowing just two hits and one run. He also struck out four batters. Gray kept Minnesota off the board until a balk scored Jake Cave in the fifth inning. He finished the game with 5 1/3 innings pitched having given up two hits and two runs.
Though Hill was successful, the relief fell apart in extra innings. Down 3-2 in the 10th, Sergio Romo came into the game and didn’t record an out. He gave up two hits, walked two and gave up two runs before being relieved. The damage had been done, though, as the Twins were down 5-2 with three outs to get three more runs.
Score Runs, Just Not Home Runs
Minnesota got a much-needed presence back in the lineup: Luis Arraez. Arraez finally came back after an ankle and knee issue and made an immediate impact.
In his first game back in two weeks, he went 4-for-4 with three doubles and three RBIs. That game alone brought up his batting average from the high .280s to .315 in one contest.
On Sunday, he did more of the same. He added three more hits with one being a double. In his two games back, Arraez’s four doubles demonstrated his makeup as a hitter: Producing a lot of contact that goes anywhere on the field — anywhere but over the fence. Indicative of Arraez’s success, Minnesota went each of the three games without hitting a home run.
Eddie Rosario continued a strong string of games with a three-hit series. He also had three RBIs in the three games, making it nine in his past seven games. With new-found power hitter Byron Buxton out of the lineup for a few games, Rosario has been extremely important to the Twins’ roster.
Bring on the Astros
With the loss on Sunday, Minnesota draws the Houston Astros to Target Field for the first round of the playoffs.
The first team fielded after the cheating scandal that rocked all of MLB regressed from its World Series form of the last few seasons. The Astros finished second in the AL West with a sub-.500 record. Seven games behind the Oakland Athletics, Houston comes to Minnesota with a 29-31 record.
The first game will be on Tuesday, yet game times are still to be determined as the postseason matchups are solidified.