MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins' starting rotation for the Wild Card Series appears to be set.
"It’s a great trio to be throwing out there," manager Rocco Baldelli said.
The unit doesn't come as much of a surprise, considering that Maeda has been the Twins' most consistent and effective starting pitcher this season (5-1, 2.52 ERA, MLB-best 0.76 WHIP entering Wednesday), while both Berríos and Pineda have pitched effectively in September.
Berríos weathered command issues at the beginning of the season to finish strong with a 2.05 ERA, 22 strikeouts and six walks in 22 innings across four September starts. Pineda has replicated his consistent 2019 form in four September starts since his activation from the restricted list, with a 3.18 ERA, 21 strikeouts and four walks across 22 2/3 innings.
Maeda's start on Wednesday night against Detroit will serve as his final regular-season tuneup before he likely makes the Game 1 start next Tuesday on five days' rest. Based on how Minnesota's schedule lines up this week with Thursday's off-day, Berríos and Pineda would be scheduled to throw Games 2 and 3, respectively, on four days' rest.
"I think it’s what we’re looking at and that’s the way it’s lined up," Baldelli said. "The Thursday off-day kind of forced us into a spot where we’re going to have to make those calls fairly early. Obviously, we’re not going to make any official announcements, but what we’re looking at, it’s going to be difficult to make any changes. We don’t want to make any changes."
Because Rich Hill is currently penciled in as the Twins' probable pitcher for the regular-season finale against Cincinnati on Sunday, the 40-year-old left-hander may be on the outside looking in for the Wild Card Series unless Minnesota would use him in a shortened relief role on his normal side session day two or three days after that start.
All of this indicates that whichever of the Twins' other starting pitchers -- Jake Odorizzi, Hill, Homer Bailey or Randy Dobnak -- are on the 28-man active roster for the Wild Card Series would likely pitch in a relief role. Baldelli already indicated on Tuesday that Odorizzi is likely to make the cut.
Of those four, Hill has the most extensive bullpen experience, as 128 of his 291 career regular-season appearances have come in a relief role. With that said, he has pitched almost exclusively as a starter since 2015. Dobnak is clearly the most flexible of the bunch as he bounced between the rotation and bullpen last season and posted a 1.59 ERA in nine appearances.
The only relief appearance of Bailey's career came in Game 3 of the 2010 National League Division Series. Odorizzi last made three relief appearances in 2013, his age-23 season.
AL Central tiebreakers, explained
Entering play Wednesday, only three games separated the first-place White Sox and third-place Cleveland in the American League Central, with a tight race for positioning and the division crown between the trio of playoff teams likely to come down to the final day of the season.
Here's how all of the tiebreakers would shake out as Minnesota eyes a second consecutive division title.
Scenario A: Twins and White Sox tie for first/second place
Result: White Sox win tiebreaker
The Twins and White Sox tied their 10-game season series at 5-5. The second tiebreaker is record within the AL Central. The Twins entered Wednesday 22-17 in the division with one game to play. The Sox entered Wednesday 25-13 with two to play, meaning they can't be caught.
In a tie for first place, this would give the White Sox the division title and bump Minnesota to the second-place playoff berth, likely the No. 4 seed in the AL. In a tie for second place, the White Sox would claim the second-place playoff berth and bump the Twins to a Wild Card berth, likely the No. 7 seed.
Scenario B: Twins and Cleveland tie for first/second place
Result: Twins win tiebreaker
This one is more straightforward: The Twins decisively won the season series between the two teams, 7-3.
Scenario C: Cleveland and White Sox tie for first/second place
Result: Cleveland wins tiebreaker
This one is also easy: Cleveland entered Wednesday with a 6-2 advantage in the season series against Chicago, with two more to play.
Scenario D: Twins, White Sox and Cleveland end in a three-way tie
Result: Twins win division; Cleveland finishes second; White Sox finish third
Three-way ties are broken by considering each team's combined record against the other two teams in the tie. The Twins finished the season 12-8 against Cleveland and Chicago, netting them the advantage. Entering Wednesday, Cleveland was 9-9 and Chicago was 7-11. The results of the final two games of this Cleveland-Chicago series won't matter because Cleveland already holds the two-team tiebreaker over the Sox, locking Chicago into third place.