With a chance to secure their second consecutive American League Central title, the Minnesota Twins will turn to veteran left-hander Rich Hill in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Reds in Minneapolis.
The Twins (36-23) need either a win over the Reds (30-29) or a loss by theChicago White Sox (35-24) to the Chicago Cubs to claim the top spot in the AL Central. Should they lose and the White Sox win, Chicago would claim the crown by virtue of a better intra-division record tiebreaker.
"It was no easy task to get to this point," said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. "We're not done yet. We've got to go out and win tomorrow."
Hill (2-2, 3.27 ERA) has pitched well against Cincinnati in his career, compiling a 5-3 record and 3.34 in 12 career appearances and 10 starts.
Hill garnered the win in a 6-0 shutout in his last start against the Reds, which came last season in Cincinnati when he was pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He allowed just two hits while striking out 10 over six innings.
The Twins guaranteed that they'll host a best-of-three wild-card series starting on Tuesday by virtue of their 7-3 victory over the Reds on Saturday night. Luis Arraez came off the injured list to go 4-for-4 with three doubles and three RBIs to lead the way.
Minnesota is a major league-best 24-6 at home this season. Another win Sunday, besides possibility bumping the Twins as high as the No. 2 seed in the AL playoffs, would also give Minnesota the highest single-season home winning percentage (.806) in MLB history.
The home field advantage is only good for the first series. The American League Division Series will be played in San Diego and Los Angeles, the AL Championship Series will be played in San Diego, and the World Series will take place at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
Still, Baldelli likes the idea of knowing the Twins, who have lost 16 consecutive postseason games, get to start out at Target Field.
"We think it can be an important factor going forward," Baldelli said. "You want everything that you can possibly have in your favor."
Cincinnati, which clinched its first postseason berth since 2013 with a 7-2 victory in Friday's series opener, will start right-hander Sonny Gray (5-3, 3.73) on Sunday after debating whether to bring Cy Young candidate Trevor Bauer (5-4, NL-best 1.73 ERA) back on three day's rest.
Bauer allowed one run on four hits over eight innings while striking out 12 in a 6-1 win over Milwaukee on Wednesday, throwing 104 pitches, 69 of which were strikes.
Gray is 2-4 with a 5.30 ERA in seven career starts against Minnesota, including 1-3 with a 4.05 ERA in four starts at Target Field.
With the Reds likely headed to Atlanta to play the Braves in the wild-card series starting Wednesday, Reds manager David Bell felt it was more important to line up his postseason pitching rotation rather than to potentially move up in the National League seeding.
Bauer will start the opener, followed by Luis Castillo, with Gray set for Game 3 if necessary.
"I prefer it that way because we're in the postseason, and we can line up to try to give us the best chance of winning a postseason series," Bauer told MLB.com. "Obviously, if we needed to win Sunday, I was excited to pitch Sunday. But I'd much rather pitch in a must-win game in the postseason than a must-win game to get to the postseason."
--Field Level Media