(Photo credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)
Right-hander Sonny Gray will make his final regular-season start for the Minnesota Twins on Thursday afternoon when the American League Central champs go for a three-game series sweep of the Oakland Athletics in Minneapolis.
Gray (8-8, 2.80 ERA), who ranks second to the New York Yankees' Gerrit Cole (2.63) in the American League ERA race, is expected to start the second game of an AL wild-card series on Wednesday in Minneapolis.
Minnesota (85-73) has won six of its past seven games and appears to be peaking at the right time. The Twins improved to 40-27 since the All-Star break with a 6-4, come-from behind victory over the A's on Wednesday, and they are 16-8 in September.
Gray, who has made 17 quality starts this season, is 1-1 with a 4.66 ERA in four career starts against Oakland (48-110), the team that selected him in the first round of the 2011 draft out of Vanderbilt.
Like the Twins, he also seems to be peaking down the stretch. He has a 1.96 ERA in four September starts and has allowed just one run -- a solo homer by Jo Adell of the Los Angeles Angels -- over his past 13 innings while striking out 14 and walking none.
Rookie right-hander Luis Medina (3-10, 5.64) will make his 17th start and 23rd appearance, but he has yet to face Minnesota. Medina hasn't won a game since July 18. In his most recent outing, he gave up five runs (four earned) in five innings during a 7-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 21.
Minnesota rallied from a 4-2 deficit to defeat the A's on Wednesday, with Trevor Larnach driving in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning on a pinch-hit double off the right field wall. Ryan Jeffers hit a two-run homer and also had a sacrifice fly, Max Kepler had his fifth career four-hit game and Edouard Julien also homered for the Twins.
Pablo Lopez, who will be on the mound when Minnesota tries to snap a record 18-game postseason losing streak on Tuesday, was pulled after just 77 pitches, 53 of which were strikes, and 4 1/3 innings by manager Rocco Baldelli in his final tune-up before the playoffs. He allowed three runs on five hits and a walk and struck out six.
"I'm really, really excited for what's to come regardless of who the opponent might be," Lopez said.
Jeffers continued his hot second half with his ninth homer in 42 games, a two-run shot off the facing off the second deck in left that tied it 4-4 in the sixth inning.
"Right now we just want to play good baseball," Jeffers said. "We want to go into October 3rd just playing our best baseball, playing complete baseball, playing good defense, pitching the ball well and hitting the ball. Coming from behind, it's another good win."
The Athletics, who broke the franchise's single-season loss record in the Oakland era with a 11-3 setback in the Tuesday opener, fell again on Wednesday despite a strong outing by Joey Estes.
The 21-year-old right-hander was charged with three runs on six hits over 5 1/3 innings. He was in line for the win in his second major league start before Jeffers tied it with his blast off reliever Kyle Muller later in the sixth.
Estes, who gave up a home run to Julien on his first pitch of the game, walked one and struck out five.
"I thought overall his night was great," Oakland manager Mark Kotsay said postgame. "I think he got some swing and miss with his fastball in his first outing. Tonight he got swing and miss on all his stuff, which is a good sign. This kid is so competitive. You can see the way he is out on the mound. He's got presence."
--Field Level Media