Sunday marks the end of what has been a disappointing season for the Minnesota Twins.
A surprise playoff participant a year ago, the Twins will be watching from their couches this October. That includes Joe Mauer, who will retreat to his home in St. Paul after Sunday's finale and contemplate his future.
The three-time American League batting champion and six-time All-Star becomes a free agent this fall when the eight-year, $184 million contract he signed with his hometown team expires. Sunday could mark his final appearance in a Twins uniform ... or in a baseball uniform in general.
He told reporters last month that retirement was something he'd consider, but not until after the season. He has given no hints since and the Twins did not plan any ceremonies to mark his 15-year career during their final homestand of the season.
Now, though, there is a definite chance that the end is near.
"The end of the season sneaks up on you," Mauer said. "Here we are, in the last weekend. I'm just trying to enjoy it."
Mauer was not in manager Paul Molitor's lineup Saturday night when the Twins beat the Chicago White Sox 8-3, but he will start at first base Sunday afternoon.
If this is the end of his run, he's going out on a high note. He's batting .365 with nine RBIs in his last 16 games and will carry an eight-game hitting streak into the season finale.
"It doesn't surprise me," Molitor said. "We're all pulling for him to have a good finish to this year. He's putting together a nice homestand. I think he's really relishing just the response and the fans. You soak it in -- even if you're contemplating what lies ahead. Just to kind of pause and take pictures of each day you're playing the game."
Right-hander Zack Littell (0-2, 6.61 ERA) gets the start for Minnesota. It will be the second career start and seventh career appearance for Littell, who threw two scoreless innings of relief last Saturday against the A's.
He lasted just three innings in his only previous start, allowing six runs, six hits and four walks in a 6-3 loss to the White Sox on June 4.
"Obviously, the results weren't there, but it was one of the more fun nights of my life," Littell said. "I got to live out my dream. And that was awesome. I didn't pitch the way I wanted to, but the experience was incredible."
The White Sox turn to right-hander Dylan Covey (5-13, 5.06) for the series finale. He has not allowed a run in his last two starts, both of them six-inning efforts against American League Central champion Cleveland, while striking out 12 with just four walks.
"That was definitely a big confidence-booster for me," Covey said after dueling Indians' ace Corey Kluber in his last outing. "I've known all year that I have the stuff; it's just trying to find that consistency with it."
Consistency has been an issue for the 27-year-old in his second big league season. He went 4-10 with a 5.87 ERA in 17 starts before White Sox manager Rick Renteria moved him to the bullpen in late August. Covey posted a 2.25 ERA in five relief appearances and was put back in the rotation Sept. 11, when he was tagged for five runs in 4 1/3 innings of a loss to the Royals before looking dominant against the Indians.
"These last couple of starts felt really good," Covey said. "I got one more start to try to finish off the year strong, and we'll see what happens."
Covey is 0-1 with a 4.26 ERA in three games -- one start -- versus the Twins.