(Photo credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)
The Minnesota Twins will try to end a nearly 19-year-old playoff victory drought when they host the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 1 of an American League wild-card series on Tuesday afternoon in Minneapolis.
The Twins' most recent playoff victory was Oct. 5, 2004, against the New York Yankees. Sincethen, Minnesota has lost a record 18 straight postseason games.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays also are eager to turn around their recent playoff fortunes. Toronto has been swept in each of its past two wild-card series, in 2020 against the Tampa Bay Rays and last season against the Seattle Mariners, and it is searching for its first postseason win since Oct. 18, 2016, against Cleveland.
Toronto (89-73) won more games this season than Minnesota (87-75), but the Twins will have home-field advantage because they won a weaker AL Central. The Blue Jays finished in third place behind the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East.
The winner of this series will play the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series.
Toronto manager John Schneider said he and his players felt relief and excitement.
"Baseball is hard and this (East) division is hard," Schneider said. "I think getting here probably takes a lot of weight off of the players' shoulders. Looking back at spring training, there were very high expectations.
"People can say we either met them or fell short of them, but the fact that we are in. I think the guys really like that. They're really looking forward to it because of how good they are."
The Twins' lineup includes several young players without playoff experience, but veteran shortstop Carlos Correa is looking to provide leadership and perspective. Correa went to the World Series three times with the Houston Astros.
Correa hit only .230 this season with 18 homers and 65 RBIs. He said those statistics carried no weight anymore, and that he felt healthy and ready to start in Game 1.
"You throw the numbers out the window and the (new) season starts," Correa said. "This is the season that matters. It's time to go."
High-quality, consistent pitching helped propel both teams into the playoffs.
Twins right-hander Pablo Lopez will get the ball in Game 1 after posting an 11-8 record with a 3.66 ERA in 32 starts during the regular season. Lopez recorded a team-high 234 strikeouts in 194 innings, and he limited batters to a .238 average.
This will be Lopez's second career playoff start. His first opportunity came with the Miami Marlins in 2020, when he allowed two runs on three hits in five innings against the Atlanta Braves.
In two career starts against Toronto, Lopez is 1-0 with a 5.59 ERA.
The Blue Jays will turn to right-hander Kevin Gausman to start the series. He went 12-9 with a 3.16 ERA in 31 starts this season, and he led the American League with 237 strikeouts in 185 innings.
Gausman has appeared in seven playoff games and started two. He is 0-1 with a 4.57 ERA in those contests, which have included appearances with Baltimore, Atlanta, San Francisco and Toronto.
In 11 career starts against the Twins, Gausman is 1-4 with a 6.35 ERA.
The Twins and Blue Jays faced each other six times this season, with each club winning three games. Minnesota had a narrow 28-26 advantage in runs.
--Field Level Media