Reds, Twins set for crucial final series

MLB

Right-handers Tyler Mahle and Jose Berrios take the mound Friday night in Minneapolis as the Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins open their three-game series that will finish off the regular season.

Ironically, both pitchers have just one career start against their opponent and that came against each other on April 29, 2018, at Target Field. Mahle and the Reds coming away with an 8-2 victory.

Mahle (2-2, 3.57 ERA), who is 2-1 with a 3.10 ERA in his last five starts, outpitched Berrios badly in that contest, allowing one run on four hits over 6 1/3 innings while walking two and striking out seven.

Berrios (5-3, 3.72), who is 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA in four September starts with 22 strikeouts and six walks in 22 innings, gave up four runs on five hits and three walks in just three innings while taking the loss. He did not strike out a batter.

The series will have heavy playoff implications for both teams, who each enjoyed a day off on Thursday.

Cincinnati (29-28), which is 9-2 over its last 11 games, is in a dogfight for both second place in the National League Central and/or a wild-card berth. Had the season ended after their 6-1 victory over visiting Milwaukee on Wednesday night, the Reds would have been the No. 8 seed heading to Los Angeles to open their best-of-three wild-card series with the Dodgers on Wednesday.

But there’s still plenty of baseball to be played. The Cardinals (28-26) and Brewers (27-29) began a five-game series on Thursday night in St. Louis, with the Cardinals winning 4-2, and St. Louis may have to make up a doubleheader with Detroit on Monday before everything is sorted out in the Central.

Still, the Reds had plenty of reason to celebrate after their final home game of 2020 on Wednesday night. The victory gave Cincinnati a 6-4 season-series edge and the No. 1 tiebreaker against the Brewers, while starter Trevor Bauer, pitching on three days rest, took a big step toward a potential Cy Young Award by allowing one run on four hits over eight innings and striking out 12.

“The most excited I’ve seen our team,” Reds manager David Bell said. “We knew it was a big game. There is still a focused energy in the clubhouse because we know we have so much left to do and to accomplish.”

Bauer (5-4), who is prepared to come back again on three days rest for Sunday’s finale if needed, leads the National League in ERA (1.73), strikeouts (100), WHIP (0.79) and opponents’ batting average (.159). His 100 strikeouts is the most after 11 starts in Reds history.

“I don’t know how you see it any other way,” Bauer said matter-of-factly about his Cy Young chances. “Big game for me personally, but more importantly for the team. It’s a playoff series. Every series right now for us is playoff series.”

Minnesota (35-22) moved a half-game ahead of the Chicago White Sox for first place in the AL Central with its fourth straight win, 7-6, over visiting Detroit on Wednesday night. That advantage stretched to a full game after Chicago lost at Cleveland on Thursday.

The Twins have already clinched a playoff spot for the second consecutive season, but with a major league best 23-5 home record, they are aiming to garner a top-four seed so they can open their AL wild-card series Tuesday at Target Field. The White Sox own the intra-division tiebreaker should the teams wind up tied. Should Cleveland, Minnesota and Chicago end up in a three-way tie for first, the Twins own the tiebreaker.

Berrios is already penciled in to start Game 2 of the wild-card series after Kenta Maeda improved to 6-1 after allowing three runs on four hits and no walks while striking out nine over six innings in Wednesday’s win.

“It’s hard not to feel really, really good about our chances any time Kenta’s on the mound,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “From Day One, he’s been dominant.”

–Field Level Media

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