Pablo Lopez and the Twins aim to stop playoff skid when they host the Blue Jays in Wild Card Series

Mon, Oct 2, 2023
MLB News (AP)

Pablo Lopez and the Twins aim to stop playoff skid when they host the Blue Jays in Wild Card Series

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Pablo Lopez is a newcomer to the Minnesota Twins who was just an 8-year-old in Venezuela when this record postseason losing streak began.

He's heard all about it, and he's eager to help make it disappear.

"I feel like, just like anything in life, nothing lasts forever," said Lopez, who will start Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series for the Twins on Tuesday afternoon at Target Field against the Toronto Blue Jays. "This group is as good as any to go out there and give the team, the fans, the community the opportunity to celebrate something."

With 18 consecutive losses in the playoffs, the Twins have the longest skid in major North American professional sports history. Their last postseason victory was over the New York Yankees on Oct. 5, 2004, and it's been 21 years since they won a series.

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"The majority of us have not been a part of that unfortunate streak, but I know our fans have," Lopez said. "We're embracing that, and we're going to use it as motivation."

The AL Central champion Twins get to play the entire best-of-three series at home. This club, led by Lopez and Game 2 starter Sonny Gray, also has the All-Star starting pitching that has largely been lacking for the Twins in October since Johan Santana and Brad Radke fronted the rotation at the start of this dubious streak in 2004.

That's why president of baseball operations Derek Falvey was willing to trade the 2022 AL batting champion, Luis Arraez, to the Miami Marlins last winter to acquire Lopez. The right-hander tied for third in Major League Baseball with a career-high 234 strikeouts in 194 innings that were the most logged by a Twins pitcher since Jose Berrios in 2019.

"He's ready for this nod. There will be a lot of adrenaline running for him tomorrow," Falvey said Monday. "But we're really proud of what he's accomplished this year and ultimately what we'll have with him for a lot of years to come."

This is by many measures the most even of the four series in the first round, with the Blue Jays boasting starting pitching that's just as strong. Twins starters had a collective 3.82 ERA, second-best in the majors behind the San Diego Padres. The Blue Jays (3.85) were third.

"Our defense is amazing and pitching's been amazing, and I still think we're a pretty good offense, too," Toronto shortstop Bo Bichette said. "I know you need to do everything well in the playoffs to win, and I look forward to seeing what we're capable of."

GAUSMAN GETS GAME 1

The Blue Jays will gladly send right-hander Kevin Gausman to the mound Tuesday, despite the 11-year veteran's rough track record in 11 career starts against the Twins. He's 1-4 with a 6.35 ERA and an opponent batting average of .286.

"I'm definitely excited to right the ship," said Gausman, who lost his AL Wild Card Series start to the Seattle Mariners last season.

The Twins set a single-season record with 1,654 strikeouts, an average of 10.2 per game. Gausman was second in the big leagues with 237 strikeouts this year.

"It just looks like he doesn't have a heartbeat," teammate George Springer said. "He's always so calm. He's always so collected."

DOWN TO THE WIRE

The Twins were tight-lipped about the status of stars Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa and Royce Lewis, all of whom have spent the last two weeks rehabilitating injuries - and in Buxton's case much longer because of season-long knee trouble that kept him from playing center field.

Correa (plantar fasciitis) said he's been able to "do pretty much everything" lately and appears to be the most likely to play in Game 1. Lewis, who strained his hamstring on Sept. 19, might be able to serve as the designated hitter if he's not cleared to play third base. But he sounded more cautious than optimistic when he spoke to reporters.

"A little bit better each day, but it's not like significant to where I've got a big smile on my face like I know secretly I'm going to be locked in and balling out," Lewis said. "We'll see where we're at."

BEHIND THE PLATE

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said the performance of catcher Alejandro Kirk down the stretch was one of the highlights of the season for him, with the way he's made himself available, handled the pitching staff and controlled the running game.

"He's been kind of our sneaky MVP the last month, for him to do what he's done and for us to really not even think about it," Gausman said.

OH, CANADA

The Blue Jays are sure to have an audible contingent of fans in attendance, with the Canadian border about a six-hour drive away. Former Twins star Justin Morneau, a native of British Columbia, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch for Game 2.

Twins rookie Eduoard Julien is from Quebec, where he was raised a Montreal Expos fan until they moved in 2005 to Washington and was forced to switch allegiance to the Blue Jays.

"It's been a pretty unique year, for sure, first playing for your country in the World Baseball Classic and now I have a chance to beat my country's team," Julien said.

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