MINNEAPOLIS -- The number two reigned supreme at Target Field on Saturday night.
The Twins unleashed a torrent of eight doubles against Cincinnati pitching, one shy of matching a club record. Three of them came from Luis Arraez (wearing uniform number 2), who immediately packed a punch in his return from the injured list with four hits, two runs scored and three RBIs in the Twins’ 7-3 win over the Reds.
But the most important number two of all: The two (or three) playoff games that the Twins are guaranteed to host at Target Field in the Wild Card Series.
The Twins entered Saturday needing only a victory or a Cleveland loss to secure home-field advantage in the Wild Card Series. They got both, as the Pirates cruised to an 8-0 win at Progressive Field. That means Minnesota can finish no worse than second in the American League Central, guaranteeing the club at least the No. 4 seed in the postseason.
“We think it can be an important factor going forward,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You want everything that you can possibly have in your favor. … Guys have responded very well from the very, very beginning of the year until now, so we’ll take these games here very happily.”
The only number two that didn’t work in the Twins’ favor on Saturday night was the magic number of two that they held to clinch the division title. The White Sox came from behind to handle the Cubs, meaning that the race for a second straight AL Central crown will come down to the final game of the regular season.
The Twins will own a one-game lead over the White Sox entering Sunday, but Chicago holds the tiebreaker.
“Our division was very strong this year from top to bottom,” Baldelli said. “All the teams competed and played hard, and three teams going to the playoffs, three very competitive teams that we've all had to deal with. It was no easy task to get to this point. We're not done yet. We've got to go out and win tomorrow.”
Regardless of whether the Twins win the Central or whether their first-round matchup will be against Cleveland, Chicago, Houston, New York or Toronto, the most important task this weekend was to secure a home playoff series. Saturday’s win improved the Twins to an MLB-best 24-6 record at home, and another win on Sunday would give Minnesota the highest single-season winning percentage at home in MLB history.
The Twins have actually hit equally well at home and on the road, sporting a .242/.318/.430 line with 43 homers, 37 doubles and 130 runs scored at home entering Saturday versus a nearly identical .241/.314/.429 line with 48 homers, 35 doubles and 129 runs scored on the road.
It’s in the pitching that there’s a big difference.
Twins pitchers have a 2.86 ERA at home and a 4.38 mark on the road**.** Opponents were hitting .215/.280/.339 at Target Field entering Saturday and a much more robust .251/.321/.414 against the Twins in their own ballparks.
Game 1 starter Kenta Maeda has been elite everywhere, but he’s been just about untouchable at home (1.91 ERA, .319 opponents’ OPS), a step up from his road numbers (3.48 ERA, .672 OPS). Game 2 starter José Berríos also has been markedly better at home (3.38 ERA, .602 OPS) than on the road (4.65 ERA, .793 OPS) in a small sample size this season.
“Familiarity around the ballpark, obviously, our home clubhouse is here, all our stuff is here,” Taylor Rogers said. “That makes us feel comfortable. It’s something that’s normal this year, and that’s something that’s helped us play well at home.”
On the flip side, here are the road records for each of Minnesota’s potential first-round opponents: Cleveland (17-13), Chicago (17-13), Toronto (15-19), New York (11-18), Houston (9-22). That’s a pretty considerable advantage, especially if the Twins can avoid facing one of their AL Central rivals.
How would that happen? If the Twins finished second in the division with a loss to the Reds and a White Sox win on Sunday, they would line up against either the Blue Jays or Yankees in the first round. A division title would likely secure a first-round matchup against Cleveland or Chicago, with a slim chance at the Astros.
Whoever the opponent is, Arraez’s emphatic return from the IL bodes well for the Twins. The second baseman recorded the second four-hit game of his career with doubles to left, left-center and right-center, adding an RBI single in the seventh to narrowly miss joining Kirby Puckett as the only Twins with four doubles in a game.
"That's me. That's Luis Arraez. I like to spray the ball all over the field,” Arraez said. “Like I said before, I'm grateful that I'm healthy and back in the lineup with my teammates. I missed them all. I wasn't trying to stretch that last hit to a double. I was just trying to get that guy at third to score a run."