The main question coming out of Sunday afternoon's completion of the regular season was "Who will the Twins face at Target Field on Tuesday?" As the Twins and Bailey Ober went about their business, the answer to that question emerged, and the Twins looked sharp throughout most of their final tune-up for the Wild Card series.
Ober Hopes for a Division Series Opportunity
As the late-season pitching auditions continued, Bailey Ober made his case for becoming the Game 1 ALDS starter. Ober started the game looking to build on a September of succes, having gone 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA over his three Fall starts. Through the first four innings, Ober struck out five and only surrendered one hit to Nolan Jones. Unfortunately that hit traveled 458 feet.
Oppo-rific Second Inning
The Twins carried a 2-1 lead into the fifth inning mainly because their offense got opposite-field happy in the top of the second. Four straight singles to where the defense wasn't by Max Kepler, Ryan Jeffers, Edouard Julien, and Alex Kirilloff plated two runs and gave Twins fans hopes of playoff offensive success.
The offense went on snooze control from there, however, and the regulars began getting pinch hit for in the sixth inning.
Seriously, Who Do We Play on Tuesday?
Every game on the final Sunday started at 2pm CDT so that no one could unnecessarily tank. The Twins were locked and loaded to play either Houston or Toronto in their opening round, and by the time the sixth inning rolled around it looked fairly obvious that the Canadians would be invading Target Field on Tuesday. The Astros were taking care of the Diamondbacks, and the Rangers were losing to the Mariners. Twins fans were lamenting the Blue Jays' decision to skip Kevin Gausman for today's start implied that Toronto was setting themselves up for a loss today. Jose Berrios at Target Field on Wednesday doesn't sound wonderful either. Conspiracy theorists really took off once the Rays lit Wes Parsons (who definitely isn't Gausman) for seven runs in the second inning. Stay tuned...
Intriguing Side-Story Part 2
The other Twins-worthy item of note involved the 2019 Bomba Squad home run record and the 2023 juggernaut Atlanta Braves. The Braves entered the day with 305 long balls, just three shy of the Twins' record 307. Marcell Ozuna took one deep in the third inning, putting them at 306 in their matchup with the Washington Nationals with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Matt Olson having been removed from the game in the fifth inning.
Back to Coors Field for a Game Still Being Played
Ober kept dealing through the middle innings. The Twins offense kept sputtering. But the highlight of the game in what might be the final appearance of Twins baseball on TV as we've known it, Justin Morneau and Trevor Plouffe caught Dick Bremer off-guard with a cake and some bourbon in honor of Bremer's 40th season of bringing Twins baseball to the midwest and beyond. The future is uncertain for all parties, but clearly Bremer has made an impact with former players and staff, as well as the Blyleven fill-in's. Bremer teared up, and I forgave him for causing me pain with his premature home run calls all season.
A bunt single led to Solano chucking the ball to goodness knows where, but the Rockies couldn't cash the run in and it was still 2-1 after six.
Earlier in the day, the Twins called up Jorge Alcala and sent Dallas Keuchel to the IL after he apparently pitched injured to eat up innings for his squad yesterday. This answers the "Will Dallas be on the Wild Card roster?" question, but we already knew that. The bigger news might have been Gilberto Celestino being designated for assignment as a corresponding move. Celestino went from being a most-improved and unsung hero last season to an afterthought on the roster this season. We wish him well wherever he lands.
As the games reached their seventh innings, the results stayed the same. Blue Jay fans were aggressively monitoring SeatGeak for a Tuesday and Wednesday run to Target Field. Houston looks to sit atop the AL West after all thanks to an indifferent Diamondbacks playoff team and a Rangers almost epic full collapse in Seattle. Houston will enjoy the week off as the #2 seed alongside #1 Baltimore. The Twins will host the Blue Jays (at 3:38 CT) and the Rays will host the Rangers on Tuesday.
The Braves are still sitting at 305 home runs as they head to the eighth inning.
Things Turn Bitter at Coors
Alcala got the call for the Twins in the eighth inning, and he got the first two outs without issue. After running up the count 3-1 on pinch-hitting right hander Sean Bouchard, Alcala got away with a cookie to run the count full, and lost a cookie to the left field bleachers on the next pitch to tie the game at two apiece, and add uncertainty to his ability to be called upon when the games really really really matter over the next few weeks. After allowing three home runs in just over five innings of work in May, Alcala needed to show that his long ball issues were behind him. That didn't happen.
Alcala returned in the ninth inning and well, and got the first two outs again easily before being squeezed early in the count by the home plate umpire into a 3-0 count and an eventual walk where Morneau was quick to claim that all five pitches were actually strikes. Kris Bryant came up with a hero moment, and an attempt to send the 100+ loss Rockies faithful home happy. With Christian Vazquez manning second base, Jones took second base while Vazquez whiffed twice at the tag. Bryant walked. Kudos to Alcala, who took all of that misfortune in his first game back since May and got Ryan McMahon to dribble out to third to end the threat. Hope lingers a bit more in young Alcala than it did an inning ago.
One Last Dance with Ghost Runners!
The "runner at second" in extra innings goes away once we reach the postseason, so Sunday afternoon offered one last chance for fans to discuss how much they love or hate this rule that's here to stay in the regular season at least. The 10th inning came and went without a run. In the 11th, the Twins loaded the bases only to have Jordan Luplow strike out. Luplow's punishment was to go to the mound to pitch the bottom half of the inning in a full-surrender scenario. He enticed a pop fly to right to start the inning, but with the ghost runner Brenton Doyle streaking for third, Vazquez (now catching) missed the pitch allowing Doyle to scamper home to end this meaningless ballgame 3-2.
To add another gloomy cloud to this afternoon, in Atlanta, the lone starter left in the lineup, Ozuna, went deep yet again for number 307, tying the Bomba Squad for the all-time season record for most home runs. It's better than 308, but it still stings.
What’s Next: Twins RHP Pablo Lopez (11-8, 3.66 ERA in regular season) will lead the Twins into the most anticipated Twins playoff games in recent history. He will most likely face the above-mentioned Blue Jay RHP Gausman (12-9, 3.16 ERA in the regular season). The game will take place at 3:38pm CDT on Tuesday, October 3rd. Stay tuned to Twins Daily for the details that matter during the Wild Card Round!
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