Toronto (84-77) at Minnesota (94-67)

Light Rain with Thunder Currently: Minneapolis, MN
Temp: 71° F
  • Game info: 2:10 pm EDT Sun Oct 3, 2010
  • TV: RSN, WFTC
Preview | Box Score | Recap

While the Minnesota Twins use Sunday’s game as one final tuneup for the playoffs, the Toronto Blue Jays hope to send manager Cito Gaston into retirement with a victory at Target Field.

The Twins (94-67) avoided a third consecutive loss to begin this series when Alexi Casilla’s(notes) two-run single in the ninth inning gave them a 5-4 win Saturday, keeping alive their slim hopes of home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs.

Those hopes ended when the Yankees defeated Boston in the opener of a doubleheader later in the day. Either way, the AL Central champions will begin their division series at home Wednesday against either Tampa Bay or New York.

Reigning AL MVP Joe Mauer(notes) will surely be in the lineup then, but it’s unclear if he’ll play Sunday. The catcher, whose playing time has been limited lately due to a sore left knee, flied out as a pinch hitter Saturday.

Minnesota may be most concerned with whether Nick Blackburn(notes) (10-11, 5.55 ERA) can bounce back from his worst outing of the second half.

The right-hander’s struggles earlier in the season earned him a temporary demotion to Triple-A Rochester, but he re-established himself by posting a 1.81 ERA during a six-start stretch from Aug. 23-Sept. 22.

That run, however, came to a grinding halt Tuesday at Kansas City, where Blackburn allowed eight runs in 4 1-3 innings of a 10-1 loss.

“I’m really not concerned about what happened,” Blackburn said. “I’m not happy about it, but I’m really not concerned about it. As long as I’m sharp next outing and take some confidence into it I’ll be fine.”

A win would give Blackburn his third consecutive 11-11 finish, but another shaky outing may threaten his status as the Twins’ fourth starter in their playoff rotation.

Toronto (84-77) hasn’t reached the postseason since 1993, but the team is finishing its fourth winning season in five years - and Gaston’s tenure as manager - on a high note.

Despite squandering a late lead Saturday, the Blue Jays have won eight of 10 and piled up 23 runs in the first three games of this series - a particularly impressive total at Target Field, where the Twins have a 3.55 ERA while going 53-27.

Edwin Encarnacion(notes) became Toronto’s seventh player to reach 20 home runs with a 422-foot blast Saturday, hitting the team’s 255th homer overall. With two more, the Blue Jays would match the 1996 Orioles for the third-most in major league history.

Surprising slugger Jose Bautista(notes) enters the finale with 54 homers, 38 more than his previous career high. Only 18 players have finished a season with 55 or more.

“You never know what’s going to happen in the game,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That’s the great thing about it. A guy can all of a sudden find his swing and start banging them into the seats and that’s what he’s done.”

Toronto’s Marc Rzepczynski(notes) (3-4, 5.56) will be trying to close the season by winning a third consecutive start.

The left-hander matched a career high with nine strikeouts in five innings of a 7-5 win over the Yankees on Monday, allowing two runs and four hits.

“I felt like that was the best I’ve thrown the ball all year,” Rzepczynski said.

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Starting Pitchers

M. Rzepczynski SD vs. N. Blackburn Min
4-4 Record 10-12
4.95 ERA 5.42
57 K 68
30 BB 40
1.60 WHIP 1.45

Scoreboard

Sunday, Oct 3