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Twins will open playoffs with Kenta Maeda on mound as first-round rotation is set

Kenta Maeda
Minnesota Twins pitcher Kenta Maeda of Japan throws against the Detroit Tigers in the third inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins aren’t certain which team or where they will play their best-of-three opening round playoff series next week but the team’s starting rotation appears to be set.
Righthander Kenta Maeda, who continued his impressive first season with the Twins on Wednesday by giving up only one hit to the Tigers through the first five innings of a 7-6 victory at Target Field, is set to start the first game of the postseason and will be followed by righthanders Jose Berrios and Michael Pineda. The latter two will start on Friday and Saturday, respectively, in the Twins’ regular-season ending series against Cincinnati at Target Field. The first round in the American League will start on Tuesday so all three pitchers would be properly rested.
The decision to go with Maeda, Berrios and Pineda comes as no surprise. That means the Twins would have to advance to the best-of-five American League Division series for veteran Rich Hill to get a start. Hill is scheduled to start the regular-season finale on Sunday. The 40-year-old lefthander was impressive in his last outing against the Cubs last weekend, giving up one run and three hits with two walks and five strikeouts in seven innings (95 pitches) in a 1-0 loss. It remains to be seen if the Twins would use Hill out of the bullpen.
Righthander Jake Odorizzi, who has been on the injured list three times this season and is currently out because of a blister on the middle finger of his pitching (right) hand, also would have to hope the Twins qualify for the ALDS.
The Twins’ victory over the Tigers moved them a half-game ahead of the White Sox and into first place in the AL Central — Chicago lost a second consecutive game in walk-off fashion at Cleveland — so right now Minnesota would play host to the Astros in the first round. The Twins briefly moved from the fourth seed to the second seed in the American League on Wednesday, but ended up in the No. 3 spot after the A’s beat the Dodgers.
Maeda, acquired from the Dodgers in an offseason trade that sent top pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol to Los Angeles, is 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts this season. Maeda was used as both a starter and reliever by the Dodgers and came out of the bullpen in the playoffs in 2017, ’18 and ’19. His last start(s) in the playoffs came in the 2016 National League Championship Series against the Cubs, when he started two games.
There was a point this season when it looked as if Berrios might not be selected to make a start in the first round as he went 2-3 with 18 walks and 39 strikeouts and a 4.75 ERA in his first seven starts. But Berrios has bounced back in September, going 3-0 with six walks and 22 strikeouts and a 2.05 ERA in four starts.
Pineda has been very solid since returning on Sept. 1 when his suspension for violating MLB’s policy on banned substances (in this case, a diuretic) ended. The Twins have won all four of Pineda’s starts — he is 2-0 — and he has a 3.18 ERA with four walks and 21 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. Pineda, who spent four seasons with the Yankees before signing with the Twins, has never pitched in a playoff game.