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Twins clinch home field for first round; AL Central title to be decided Sunday

By Phil Miller, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Baseball

MINNEAPOLIS - The Twins will open the playoffs at Target Field for the first time since 2010, that much they accomplished Saturday. But there is still work to be done Sunday.

Luis Arraez collected four hits in his first game since Sept. 8, three of them doubles, and Minnesota battered Cincinnati, 7-3, at Target Field. The victory ensures that the Twins, who still hold a one-game lead over the White Sox in the AL Central, will be one of the top four seeds in the AL playoffs and thus will host all three games of a first-round series beginning Tuesday.

But the White Sox can still tie the Twins for the division championship with a win over the Cubs and a Twins' loss on Sunday. Chicago, by virtue of its better record among AL Central teams, would claim the No. 2 seed in the AL playoffs, dropping the Twins to No. 4 - and a possible first-round meeting with the New York Yankees, who have beaten them in 13 straight postseason games.

Depending on their seeding, the Twins can play the Blue Jays, Yankees, Indians, White Sox or Astros in the playoffs. The only teams they can't play are Oakland and Tampa Bay.

Still, Saturday's victory was a handy tune-up for the playoffs: A showcase for Arraez's strong return, for Max Kepler's resurgence, for Michael Pineda's fortitude and the bullpen's continued dominance. All will be critical come Tuesday.

Arraez's riveting return, though, was the most heartening development for a team that played without Josh Donaldson, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, the first two because of minor injuries, the latter to rest. The second-year second baseman, back from knee and ankle injuries, smacked line drives to all parts of the ballpark after being activated earlier in the day.

 

And all four hits produced runs.

After a first-inning double to center, Arraez scored on Nelson Cruz's two-out single. His liner off the left-field wall in the third inning came sandwiched between doubles from Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario, a two-run burst of doubles that put the Twins ahead for good. His third-inning shot to left-center scored Kepler again in the fifth, and in the seventh, Arraez came to the plate with a chance to join Kirby Puckett as the only Twins player ever to double four times in a game.

Instead, he singled down the right-field line, driving in Ehire Adrianza.

Pineda threw 80 pitches over four innings and escaped from a couple of jams, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks.

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