(Photo credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)
The Minnesota Twins will open their final homestand of the regular season with a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels, which begins on Friday night in Minneapolis.
With a victory, Minnesota (81-72) would clinch its third American League Central title in five years.
Right-hander Pablo Lopez (10-8, 3.58 ERA) will get the start for the Twins in the opener.
Minnesota hasn't clinched a division title on its home field since 2010 and needs to win just one of its final nine games, the next six of which are at Target Field, to claim the crown. It also can do it if Cleveland and Detroit both lose just one game.
The Twins were off Thursday after rallying to win the rubber match of a three-game series at Cincinnati. Wednesday's 5-3 win came thanks to a three-run, ninth-inning rally that was capped by a two-run, two-out single by Jorge Polanco.
Minnesota could have clinched the AL Central title if Cleveland and Detroit had both lost their Thursday contests, but the Guardians disposed of Baltimore 5-2 and the Tigers won 7-3 at Oakland to remain alive for at least one more day.
"Doing this for a little while now, it's special to win a division," Twins bench coach Jayce Tingler, filling in for manager Rocco Baldelli (paternity leave), said after Wednesday's comeback win. "I know if and when it happens, no matter what it looks like ... that's special because it's a group of men that have set out to achieve something. It's not our big goal, but it's a step in what we're shooting for."
Baldelli, whose wife Allie gave birth to twin boys, is expected be back in the dugout for Friday night's potential division clincher. He has missed the past four games.
Lopez ranks second in the AL with 221 strikeouts and will be making just his second career start against the Angels. He took the loss in the first one on May 21, a 4-2 setback in Anaheim, Calif., despite a solid outing that saw him allow two runs on five hits and strike out nine over six innings.
Los Angeles (69-84) will be playing its final road series of the season before finishing up with three games against both Texas and Oakland in Anaheim.
Right-hander Davis Daniel (0-0, 0.00), a seventh-round draft pick out of Auburn in the 2019 MLB Draft, will make his first major league start and second career appearance for the Angels. Daniel threw three shutout innings in his big-league debut on Sept. 7 against Cleveland, allowing two hits and three walks while striking out one.
The Angels, who have lost seven of their last eight games, come in off a bitter 5-4, walk-off loss at Tampa Bay on Thursday. Manuel Margot's two-out bloop single down the right field line off closer Carlos Estevez drove in Yandy Diaz with the winning run as Los Angeles blew a chance to win a series at Tropicana Field for the first time since 2016.
The Angels had bounced back from a 6-2, series-opening loss on Tuesday to win 8-3 on Wednesday behind a two-homer, five-RBI performance by Brandon Drury. They carried a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth on Thursday.
"I thought we played pretty well overall," Los Angeles manager Phil Nevin said. "Then you get to the last inning."
Jo Adell had given the Angels a 4-2 lead in the sixth with a two-run home run.
"I think it was the best we've played for a while for three days," Nevin said, "and to just come out with one win, it's very frustrating."
--Field Level Media