Despite losing two out of three games at home over the weekend to the Cleveland Indians, the American League Central Division-leading Minnesota Twins aren't pushing the panic button heading into a challenging week that begins with a three-game home series with the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
Minnesota still entered Monday's action with a comfortable 5 1/2-game lead over Cleveland with just 19 games remaining. Three of those, however, are against the Indians this weekend in Cleveland. The Indians begin a three-game series on the road against the Los Angeles Angels later Monday night.
The schedule gets a whole lot softer after that for the Twins, who finish up three home games against the Chicago White Sox, seven games (four at home) against the Kansas City Royals and three games at Detroit. Those three teams entered Monday's play a combined 113 games below .500, so it would take a major collapse down the stretch for Minnesota to not hang onto first place.
"It's a pretty good lead," Minnesota utility man Ehire Adrianza told MLB.com following Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Indians in the rubber match of their three-game series at Target Field in Minneapolis. "We are the ones who are in first place. We know those guys won't give up. We've got to keep battling for these last (19) games. But we should be good. We just need to win series, and we're OK. Five-and-a-half, to me, is a pretty good lead."
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli agrees.
"We're very happy to be sitting where we're sitting," Baldelli said. "But we have to get ready for Tuesday. We just have to get ready to go out there and play and win. That takes care of everything else."
It's also a big series for Washington's playoff hopes. That Nationals, coming off a 9-4 victory at National League East-leading Atlanta on Sunday to avoid a four-game sweep by the Braves, enter Monday's action with a three-game advantage over the Chicago Cubs for the first wild-card spot in the NL.
"It's September, you got to win every day," Nats pitcher Max Scherzer told the Washington Post after picking up his 10th win on Sunday. "That's just how it is. You've got to win every day."
This will mark Washington's first trip to Minneapolis since 2008, and the Nationals' inaugural series at Target Field, which opened in 2010. However, Tuesday night's starter for the Nationals, right-hander Anibal Sanchez (8-7, 4.11 ERA), who pitched briefly for the Twins in spring training in 2018 before being released and eventually signing with Atlanta, has plenty of experience pitching at Target Field as a member of the Detroit Tigers.
Sanchez is 6-6 with a 3.98 ERA in 23 career games (19 starts) against the Twins, including a 2-3 record and 3.81 ERA in 12 games (10 starts) at Target Field.
Sanchez, who began this season with an 0-6 mark, had an eight-game winning streak snapped in his previous start on Wednesday, an 8-4 loss to the New York Mets. He allowed seven runs on eight hits, including three home runs, over five innings.
Right-hander Jose Berrios (11-8, 3.78) will start the series opener for Minnesota. The two-time All-Star will be pitching against the Nationals for the first time in his career and has won just one of his last six starts. He suffered a loss at Boston on Wednesday, when he allowed six runs on eight hits, including a pair of home runs by Mookie Betts, in the Red Sox's 6-2 victory.