Twins pennant chase: AL Central still up for grabs
We’re down to the final games of this weird, wild, wacky and shortened 2020 Major League Baseball season and the Minnesota Twins are in prime position to host the wild-card round.
The question is: Will the Twins be doing it as the first- or second-place team from the American League Central?
Minnesota enters Wednesday’s games just one-half game behind division-leading Chicago. The Twins need to finish with a better record than the White Sox to claim the AL Central title. Chicago will own the tiebreaker, better intradivision record.
Of course, the Twins aren’t guaranteed home-field advantage in the wild-card round (the higher seed will host every matchup in that three-game series) as they are 1 1/2 games in front of the New York Yankees, who will likely finish in second place in the AL East.
Yes, as it stands, the Twins and Yankees are set to meet in the first round of the playoffs. If Minnesota can leapfrog the White Sox, they’d play the sixth, seventh or eighth seed (currently lined up as Houston, Cleveland and Toronto) in the opening round, depending on the records of the other first-place teams.
Yes, there’s still a lot to be determined in these final few days.
STANDINGS THROUGH 9/22 (note: GB is the Twins’ number)
* – division leader | ** – second place in division
Let’s look at the upcoming schedule for Minnesota and some of the teams which have meaning in its playoff hunt.
Schedule: Sept. 23 — at New York Mets; Sept. 25-27 – vs. Philadelphia
Skinny: Surpassing Tampa Bay in the standings won’t be easy as the Rays play the floundering Mets and Phillies, and get Philadelphia at home, where the Rays are 17-9. The Phillies are 8-19 on the road this season as well, so, yeah.
Schedule: Sept. 23-24 at Cleveland; Sept. 25-27 vs. Chicago Cubs
Skinny: Chicago does not have an easy end of schedule. Wednesday provides a great matchup with Lucas Giolito vs. Shane Bieber. The White Sox will have to rely on youngsters Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning this weekend against the Cubs (TBD on Sunday, as most teams have it pending what might be clinched). One advantage of the White Sox perhaps: The Cubs might have the NL Central wrapped up by their weekend series and could rest starters as they set up for the playoffs.
Schedule: Sept. 23 vs. Detroit; Sept. 25-27 vs. Cincinnati
Skinny: Minnesota gets to finish up at Target Field, where they are 22-5 this season (hence the importance of getting that wild-card round at home). The Reds are currently the top wild-card team in the National League, but teams are bunched up and Cincinnati is definitely playing for its playoff life. Trevor Bauer (1.80 ERA) is pitching on short rest Wednesday and could do so again vs. Minnesota on Sunday if the Reds need to win. The Twins are currently scheduled to miss both Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray, however.
Schedule: Sept. 23-24 — at Los Angeles Dodgers; Sept. 25-27 – vs. Seattle
Skinny: What Oakland does only matters if Minnesota wins the AL Central, and then it’s just a matter of seeding (likely who would face the seventh or eighth seed). After two tough games against the Dodgers, the A’s face the struggling Mariners four times, including a Saturday doubleheader in which Oakland will be the visitors for one game.
Schedule: Sept. 23-24 – at Toronto (at Buffalo); Sept. 25-27 – vs. Miami
Skinny: New York can still catch and pass Minnesota and gain home field in the wild card if both finish in second place. The Yankees have Gerrit Cole in their back pocket if needed (New York has TBD listed for both Saturday and Sunday). If he pitches, good for the Twins because it means he’ll be pushed back in the playoffs. If he doesn’t, well, it means the Yankees are locked into a spot (which could be good for the Twins) but also you know who New York’s Game 1 starter will be. Miami is still fighting for a playoff spot as well.
Schedule: Sept. 23-24 vs. Chicago White Sox; Sept. 25-27 vs. Pittsburgh
Skinny: Cleveland still has an outside chance of catching Minnesota. It’s a double-edged sword here for the Twins as surely they want Cleveland to help their cause and beat Chicago, but then the Indians close with the woeful Pirates for three games. Well, Minnesota can make the point moot by just keep on winning.