MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The Minnesota Twins popped champagne and poured beer last Friday after winning their third American League Central Division title in five seasons under Rocco Baldelli.
It came on Carlos Correa’s birthday, and within a week of Baldelli and his wife having, you guessed it, twin boys. The Twins will open the AL Playoffs next week at Target Field, aiming to end one of the longest postseason losing streaks in sports. Here are five questions facing the team heading into that series.
WHO WILL THE TWINS END UP FACING?
The short answer is we don’t know yet. What we do know is that the Twins will host up to three games next week at Target Field, if a third game is necessary. Right now, four teams are racing for three spots between the Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners. If you’re the Twins, you probably want to avoid the Rays and/or the Astros. Facing the Mariners might be their best chance to advance.
WHAT DOES THE PITCHING ROTATION LOOK LIKE?
Rocco Baldelli told reporters Pablo Lopez and Sonny Gray will be the Twins’ Game 1 and Game 2 starters. Lopez, acquired from the Miami Marlins in the trade for Luis Arraez, is 11-8 this season in 31 starts with a 3.61 earned run average. He has 228 strikeouts and just 47 walks in nearly 190 innings. Gray has been arguably the most consistent starter, but hasn’t had the run support as he’s 8-8 on the season in 31 starts with a 2.80 ERA. He’s got 179 strikeouts and 54 walks in 180 innings, and is known for being a "gamer," wanting the ball in big spots.
The nod for Game 3 probably goes to Joe Ryan, who is 11-10 in 28 starts and has 191 strikeouts.
WHAT’S UP WITH CARLOS CORREA, ROYCE LEWIS?
The Twins’ two best position players are on the injured list as Correa’s plantar fasciitis flared up, and Royce Lewis suffered a hamstring injury earlier this month. Correa came back to the Twins on a six-year, $200 million deal and has been hampered by the injury most of the season, playing 135 games through it. He’s hitting .230 with 18 home runs, 29 doubles and 65 RBI. Lewis has made an immediate impact in just 58 games, hitting .309 with 15 homers, seven doubles and 52 RBI.
Both have recently said they feel good, and expect to be on the playoff roster. That gives the Twins a much better chance to advance in the playoffs.
WILL BYRON BUXTON RETURN?
The short answer is we don’t know, but the Twins are doing everything they can to get Buxton back on the field before the AL Wild Card Playoffs. Buxton was with the St. Paul Saints last week on a rehab stint as he works his way back from an ailing knee, and went 1-for-8 with a single and three strikeouts. He played one game for the Saints in center field before the knee flared up, and he received a cortisone shot.
Buxton played 85 games for the Twins this season and hit .207 with 17 homers. They won the division without him for half the season, and if he does return, it’ll be as a designated hitter. Maybe sit him in hopes of advancing to the division series.
WHICH STARTER(S) GO TO THE BULLPEN?
Assuming Ryan gets the nod for Game 3, it makes sense for Kenta Maeda to move to the bullpen. He’s done it before in the playoffs with the L.A. Dodgers. Louie Varland, Brock Steward and Chris Paddack, recently recovered from his second Tommy John surgery, are also long relief options. Starters will likely go shorter in playoff games, especially if they get in trouble early.
WILL THE PLAYOFF SKID FINALLY END?
The Twins’ playoff struggles are well-chronicled. They’ve lost 18 straight postseason games, and haven’t won a playoff game since the 2004 AL Division Series against the New York Yankees. That’s a span of 19 seasons, and six playoff appearances. The playoffs are all about match-ups, so let’s see who comes to Target Field before we make any predictions. Having home field advantage, you would think they could win at least one game. But they’ve said it since clinching the division last week, they’re not done yet.
After all, the Twins have Minnesota’s last men’s major sports world championship, the 1991 World Series.