x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A Twins season to celebrate for Minnesota

They do not have the biggest payroll and they do not play in the biggest market. They will go back to being underdogs again but for now, they have led the way into the play-offs.

Minnesota's Danny Valencia and Jason Kubel exchange high fives during the eighth inning of their division-clinching victory over Cleveland at Target Field on Tuesday.
Minnesota's Danny Valencia and Jason Kubel exchange high fives during the eighth inning of their division-clinching victory over Cleveland at Target Field on Tuesday.

They do not have the biggest payroll and they do not play in the biggest market. They don't have the tradition associated with some teams, and in two weeks time, they will go back to being underdogs again. But the Minnesota Twins are the first team to clinch a play-off spot in 2010, and for that, they can be justifiably proud. For one thing, it is certainly a change from recent history: in both 2008 and 2009, the Twins had to take part in a tie-breaking one-game play-off game just to qualify for the post-season.

This year, they can let others worry about qualifying. This year, the Twins are in - with room to spare. By beating the Cleveland Indians while their closest competitors in the standings, the Chicago White Sox lost to Oakland, the Twins got to celebrate in their home ballpark. Target Field opened six months ago, bringing outdoor baseball back to the Twin Cities for the first time since 1981. It seemed fitting that the new ballpark, praised as one of the nicest in the game, helped usher in such a successful season.

The year did not start that way. In spring training, the team lost Joe Nathan, their closer, for the season with an elbow injury. In July, they lost Justin Morneau, their first baseman and former MVP to a concussion. Those losses might have devastated other clubs; for the Twins, who were nearly contracted by Major League Baseball almost a decade ago, it was just another obstacle to overcome. Michael Cuddyer, the outfielder, moved to first base to take over for Morneau. After using Jon Rauch as closer for much of the season, the Twins augmented their bullpen by acquiring Matt Capps from Washington.

The Twins would not mind missing out on a first-round pairing against the New York Yankees, who have been their October nemesis, eliminating them in the Division Series the last three times the teams have met. It is more likely they will draw Tampa Bay as a first-round opponent, with a date against either New York or Texas awaiting if they advance to the American League Championship Series. Match-up talk and play-off strategy is for later, though. For the moment, the Twins are relishing a return to October baseball for the sixth time since 2002 and celebrating that they won't be asked to play a 163rd game just to qualify. "It feels really special,'' Cuddyer told reporters in a jubilant clubhouse. "We're going to enjoy it right now.And it's nice to have 11 days to figure out how we're going to do it." @Email:sports@thenational.ae

Players of the week ? Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado. The Rockies' shortstop is having a September to remember. In the past 10 days alone, he smoked six homers and knocked in 17 runs in just seven games. ? Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee. Gallardo is ending the season in style, allowing just one earned run over his last 14 innings pitched. Teams of the week ? Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies won nine of 10 to pull away from Atlanta in the NL East and effectively wrap up their third straight division title. ? Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles continue to make progress under new manager Buck Showalter and have won seven of their last 10, not bad going for a team with the third- worst record in the majors. Dud of the week ? Joe Torre. The Dodgers manager, above, normally respectful of the game and others, crossed a line when he publicly said he was interested in listening if the Mets called about managing them in 2011. He apparently forgot about Jerry Manuel, the current Mets' manager. Torre later apologised and said he was not interested in managing the Mets. Series of the week ? San Francisco at Colorado, Friday-Sunday. The Giants have overtaken the Padres in the NL West and the Rockies are trying to repeat their late-season charge of 2007 and 2009. ? St Louis at Chicago, Friday-Sunday. Neither team will be going to the post-season, but this is one of the National League's best rivalries, no matter the stakes.