Right-hander Pablo Lopez will try to build on his sizzling August performance when the American League Central-leading Minnesota Twins open a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night in Minneapolis.
Lopez (8-6, 3.66 ERA), who is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two career starts against the Pirates, will be going for his fourth consecutive victory. He has allowed just one earned run and 13 hits while striking out 20 over 19 innings (0.47 ERA) during his three-game winning stretch in August against St. Louis, Detroit and Philadelphia.
Obtained from Miami in a January deal that saw the Twins ship current National League batting leader Luis Arraez to the Marlins, Lopez has emerged as the ace of the staff for Minnesota. He helped the Twins snap a four-game losing streak in his last start, an 8-1 win at defending NL champion Philadelphia on Saturday night, when he allowed four hits over six shutout innings while striking out seven.
He has given up two or fewer runs in five consecutive starts and seven of his last eight.
The series with the Pirates, who are 25 games under .500 since their 20-8 start to the season, is a key one for the Twins, who entered Thursday's action with a 4 1/2-game lead over Cleveland in the division with 40 games remaining. The schedule gets quite a bit tougher after that for Minnesota with two games at NL Central leader Milwaukee followed by a stretch that includes seven games against AL West-leading Texas and six games against the Guardians.
Minnesota comes in off an 8-7 home loss to Detroit on Wednesday afternoon. The Twins blew an early 4-0 lead and trailed 8-4 entering the bottom of the ninth but nearly pulled it out in dramatic fashion thanks to a two-run homer by Jorge Polanco and a solo shot Max Kepler.
Royce Lewis then singled to put the tying run on base with no outs and Matt Wallner, the hero in a 5-3 victory on Tuesday when he belted his first major league grand slam, then hit a towering opposite-field drive that Akil Baddoo caught at the left-field fence just a few feet shy of a walk-off game-winner.
According to Statcast, Wallner's 340-foot flyout would have been a homer in 10 other major league parks. Donovan Solano then grounded into a double play to end the comeback try. Minnesota had gone four innings without a hit before the big ninth inning.
"Our offense has been like that at times," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Even if we have three or four innings where it doesn't look so hot, all of a sudden we kind of catch it and we find something we're looking for, and we stack some good at-bats and we hit some balls good. So we'll take that but we needed more."
Right-hander Andre Jackson (0-0, 5.47), obtained June 25 from the Dodgers for cash, will make his second start of the season for Pittsburgh. Jackson, who has never faced the Twins, allowed three runs on five hits over 3 2/3 innings in a 6-5 loss in 10 innings to Cincinnati in his first start on Sunday. He walked two and struck out five in the no-decision.
Pittsburgh started its six-game road trip by losing two of three to the New York Mets, including an 8-3 setback in Wednesday afternoon's series finale. Bryan Reynolds hit a two-run homer for the Pirates, his 18th of the season and ninth since July 23.
"We're seeing the ball get elevated now to all fields, which is really important," Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said when asked about Reynolds' recent power surge by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He swung about as good as he could over the last probably 10 days."
—Field Level Media