(Photo credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports)
The American League Central-leading Minnesota Twins enter the opener of a four-game road series against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday with a magic number of nine to clinch the division.
With the finish line in sight, some Minnesota players may begin getting some rest.
"There are going to be a few days where the guys that play regularly, they might be off at this point if we can make it work," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Minnesota (76-70) is just 7-5 in September as the team tries to build momentum for a likely foray into October while also remaining healthy.
On Wednesday, the Twins rallied from a 4-0 deficit against fellow AL playoff contender Tampa Bay before Randy Arozarena's ninth-inning home run propelled the visiting Rays to a 5-4 win that secured a series victory.
"You always want to go into the playoffs, or a chance to the playoffs, putting your best foot forward," Minnesota left-hander Dallas Keuchel said. "Honestly, the month of September for us is no joke. It's a good taste of hot teams, teams that have done really well throughout the course of the season so far. I think we've matched up well with everybody."
Chicago (56-90) has lost nine of 12 after falling 7-1 to the 101-loss Kansas City Royals on Wednesday. The Royals, who took two of three from Chicago, claimed the season series 7-6.
Minnesota can clinch its season series with the White Sox with a victory on Thursday. After the teams split their six meetings in the first half, the host Twins swept the White Sox from July 21-23, getting two one-run wins. The defeats in Minneapolis were the first of six in a row for Chicago and part of the White Sox's 5-14 stretch to start the second half.
Season-long struggles for the White Sox, who harbored division title aspirations of their own in 2023, have translated to sparse crowds down the stretch.
Pitcher Mike Clevinger believes the White Sox must stay ahead of any potential sulking by sharpening their mental approach.
"You're playing against yourself right now and the other team," he said. "It's easy to let your guard down in these moments, but it's still going to go on the back of your baseball card at the end of the day."
Chicago has lost 90 games for the first time since the 2018 team dropped 100. The White Sox must finish at least 7-9 to avoid 100 defeats.
On Thursday, they will turn to right-hander Jose Urena (0-5, 8.46 ERA), who will make his second start for Chicago since his contract was selected from Triple-A Charlotte this month.
Urena lost his White Sox debut on Saturday after allowing one run and four hits in four innings at Detroit. He walked two and struck out three. Urena is 0-1 with a 6.57 ERA in four career appearances against the Twins, including three starts.
Kenta Maeda (4-7, 4.65 ERA) gets the call for the Twins. On Saturday, he earned a win against the New York Mets with 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball.
Maeda is 2-2 with a 5.58 ERA in six career starts vs. the White Sox. He lost to the White Sox on April 10, allowing four runs and eight hits in six innings with three strikeouts and no walks.
--Field Level Media