Right-hander Michael Pineda makes his first career start against the Cincinnati Reds as the Minnesota Twins try to take another step toward a second consecutive American League Central title on Saturday night in Minneapolis.
The Twins (35-23) hold a one-game lead over both the Chicago White Sox (34-24) and Cleveland Indians (34-24) heading into the final two games of the regular-season.
Minnesota can clinch home field advantage for the wild-card round by winning one game or Cleveland losing one game, and can claim the AL Central title by finishing with two victories.
The Twins, who suffered just their sixth loss in 29 games at Target Field in Friday night’s opener, 7-2, own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Cleveland or if there should be a three-way tie for first.
The White Sox, who have lost six straight including 10-0 to the crosstown rival Cubs on Friday night, own the tiebreaker with Minnesota.
Pineda (2-0, 3.18 ERA), penciled in to start Game 3 if necessary of the best-of-three wild-card series that begins Tuesday, hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any of his four starts this season.
He comes in off an 8-1 victory over the Cubs in Wrigley Field last Saturday. He allowed one run on four hits over five innings.
Pineda will be opposed by Luis Castillo (4-5, 2.86), who has been a key figure in Cincinnati’s September surge, going 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA in four starts.
Castillo will be making his second career start against the Twins at Target Field. The first, back on April 27, 2018, didn’t go very well. He gave up five earned runs on six hits and two walks in one-plus innings in a game that the Reds battled back to win, 15-9.
“My first start here wasn’t the best,” Castillo said. “I got a no-decision out of it, but I didn’t have my best stuff. Coming in this time, it doesn’t intimidate me, really. I’m just going out — God willing — and be able to put my best stuff out there and come out with a victory.”
The Reds (30-28) clinched their first playoff berth since 2013 with Friday night’s win and stuck around after the final out on the field to celebrate, donning “Respect Cincinnati” T-shirts and posing for a team photo before heading back into the locker room to celebrate some more.
Who can blame them? After getting thumped at home by St. Louis, 16-2, on Sept. 1, Cincinnati was a mediocre 15-21. But the Reds have bounced back to go 15-7 since then, including 10-2 in their past 12 games.
“I think we’re a (bleeping) nightmare, and I think everybody knows that,” first baseman Joey Votto said. “I can’t wait (for the playoffs).”
The Reds still have plenty to play for, trailing the second-place Cardinals by just one percentage point. They finished Friday’s action as the No. 7 seed, which would mean a trip to Atlanta for the wild-card series.
Friday night’s loss to the Reds could have been a costly one for Minnesota. Third baseman Josh Donaldson, sidelined for over a month with a calf injury, departed after one inning with what was called a “calf cramp,” while center field Byron Buxton, who has had concussion issues in the past, left after getting hit in the helmet with a 92 mph fastball by Lucas Sims.
The Twins announced after the game that Buxton had a head contusion and would be re-evaluated on Saturday.
“(Buxton) walked off fine,” said Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli. “Per usual he was trying to stay in the game, but for obvious reasons we were just going to get him looked at and see what we’re working with.”
–Field Level Media