The Minnesota Twins are opening a gap in the AL Central. Can they finally end their postseason skid?

Published 8:31 am Monday, August 7, 2023

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There’s been a sense all season that whoever wins the AL Central will be the weak link in the American League playoffs.

The Minnesota Twins would probably take issue with that.

The Twins have opened a bit of distance between themselves and the mediocrity that is the rest of their division. After four straight victories, they lead Cleveland by 4 1/2 games. Their run differential — a respectable plus-47 — is better than Philadelphia and San Francisco, two teams that are in postseason position in the NL.

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Yes, Minnesota trails even Toronto — the current last wild card in the AL — by four games. The Twins can thank their weak division for boosting their playoff chances. And the AL Central champ will probably be the worst division winner in the league, meaning a best-of-three series against one of the wild cards would await.

But if the Twins are in that series, underestimate their starting pitching at your peril. Sonny Gray is fifth in the AL with a 3.18 ERA. Pablo Lopez is second with 165 strikeouts and Joe Ryan is sixth with 152. Bailey Ober’s 3.21 ERA would be near the league lead as well if he had enough innings to qualify.

Of course, any postseason appearance for the Twins includes a fair amount of baggage at this point. Minnesota has lost a staggering 18 consecutive postseason games, a skid that includes best-of-threes, best-of-fives and a one-game playoff. It doesn’t include best-of-sevens because the Twins haven’t made it to the AL Championship Series since 2002.

It would be ironic if this is the Minnesota team that finally produces something worthwhile in the playoffs. It’s looking increasingly like the Twins will get that chance.

It was a pretty quiet trade deadline for the Seattle Mariners, but they’ve responded with five straight victories to pull within 2 1/2 games of the final wild card in the AL. Seattle still has seven games remaining against Kansas City and six left against Oakland — and the Mariners are 7-0 against the Athletics so far.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Los Angeles Angels kept superstar Shohei Ohtani and became buyers, but less than a week after the deadline, that’s gone about as badly as possible. The Angels were swept by Seattle and have lost six in a row to fall seven games behind a playoff spot. Lucas Giolito has allowed 12 runs in nine innings in his first two starts since being acquired from the Chicago White Sox.

Minnesota’s 18-game postseason losing streak includes 13 losses to the New York Yankees. Who are the other two teams that have swept the Twins during this period?

On the day Houston brought back Justin Verlander in a trade, Framber Valdez provided a reminder that the Astros have at least one other ace on their staff, throwing a no-hitter in a 2-0 win over Cleveland on Tuesday night. Valdez threw only 93 pitches and walked one hitter. He faced the minimum because of a double play.

Miami trailed Philadelphia 5-0 on Wednesday night before the Marlins began chipping away. Back-to-back homers by Josh Bell and Jazz Chisholm made it 5-2 in the sixth. A bases-loaded walk and an RBI groundout in the eighth brought Miami within one.

Then Jorge Soler homered in the bottom of the ninth to tie it.

Both teams scored twice in the 10th and once in the 11th. Miami finally won 9-8 on an RBI single by Jesus Sanchez in the 12th.

Philadelphia had a win probability of 96.2% in the sixth, according to Baseball Savant.

Oakland swept Minnesota 3-0 in 2006, and Houston swept a best-of-three series with the Twins in the expanded 2020 postseason.