(Photo credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)
After celebrating with the traditional champagne and beer showers late into the night following an American League Central-clinching victory on Friday, the Minnesota Twins will turn to All-Star right-hander Sonny Gray to start against the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis.
Gray (8-7, 2.84 ERA) is 5-4 with a 3.59 ERA in 15 career appearances and 14 starts against the Angels but hasn't faced them since 2018 when he was pitching for the New York Yankees.
Los Angeles (69-85), which has dropped eight of its past nine games, will use left-hander Kenny Rosenberg (1-2, 5.48) in what manager Phil Nevin said would be a bulk role. However, Nevin hadn't decided who his opener would be. Rosenberg has never faced the Twins in his eight career appearances.
Minnesota (82-72) clinched its third AL Central title in the past five seasons on Friday night with an 8-6 victory over the Angels in the opener of a three-game series. The Twins rode the pitching of Pablo Lopez, who tossed six innings of three-run ball, plus the hitting of Alex Kirilloff, who homered and drove in three runs, and Jorge Polanco, who had two doubles and an RBI.
As the team celebrated and posed for pictures on the field afterward, shortstop Kyle Farmer made a vow to the fans.
"We're going to get that first (playoff) win since 2004, I promise you that," Farmer said during an interview broadcast over the stadium's public-address system.
The Twins have lost 18 consecutive playoff games dating back to Oct. 5, 2004, when Johan Santana pitched Minnesota to a 2-0 victory over the New York Yankees in the first game of the ALDS. The 18-game postseason losing streak is the longest in major American professional sports history.
"The most important thing here is winning," Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said, "bringing a winning team and World Series back to Minnesota, and that's what we're here for. This is just the start, in my opinion. ... Trust me. They're not done."
Although there is still a slim chance the Twins could finish with the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye, Minnesota will likely be the American League's No. 3 seed and host the lowest-seeded wild-card team in a best-of-three wild-card series from Oct. 3-5.
A number of Angels players, including rookie catcher Logan O'Hoppe, who hit a two-run homer; rookie first baseman Nolan Schanuel, who had an RBI single; and rookie shortstop Zach Neto stuck around in the dugout to watch the Twins' postgame celebration on the field. That was fine with Nevin.
"First, congrats to (the Twins)," Nevin said. "They had a heckuva season and Rocco's a good dude. ... I want my guys to see that, absolutely. I really do. That's where we want to be, where we expect to be, and I think we have that good young core to get there."
Schanuel has reached base in each of the first 25 games of his major league career, moving into sixth place on the all-time list for the start of a career and passing Baldelli, who had a 24-game streak as a rookie for the 2003 Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The record (since 1900) is 47 games, held by Alvin Davis of the 1984 Seattle Mariners.
"Lopez doesn't really walk guys, so we knew Nolan was going to have to work for it to keep this thing going," Nevin said. "It's really, really impressive what he's doing."
--Field Level Media