(Photo credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)
All-Star right-hander Pablo Lopez will make his final start before the playoffs when the host Minnesota Twins vie for a series win against the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday night in Minneapolis.
Lopez (11-8, 3.61 ERA) and fellow All-Star Sonny Gray have been picked by Twins manager Rocco Baldelli to start the first two games of the playoffs next week.
Lopez was acquired from the Miami Marlins along with a pair of minor league prospects in January for National League batting leader Luis Arraez.
Lopez is 8-3 with a 2.79 ERA over his last 16 starts with 108 strikeouts in 93 2/3 innings. He won his most recent start, Friday against the Los Angeles Angels, in an AL Central-clinching 8-6 victory after allowing three runs on five hits over six innings while striking out seven.
"Nothing will change," Lopez replied when asked how he would prepare for his final tune-up before his first playoff start with Minnesota (84-73). "Just business as usual. ... Everything will stay the same. Because we're looking forward to a playoff start doesn't mean we have to start doing things differently. It's just making sure we're doing the things that has been working for 32 starts."
Lopez is 1-0 with a 5.40 ERA in two career starts against the Athletics.
Right-hander Joey Estes (0-1, 9.64 ERA) will make his second career start and first on the road for Oakland. The 21-year-old Estes, acquired as part of the trade that sent first baseman Matt Olson to Atlanta, became the youngest starting pitcher for the A's since Brett Anderson in 2009 when he pitched in a 6-3 loss to Seattle last Wednesday.
Estes allowed six runs (five earned) on six hits, including back-to-back home runs to Julio Rodriguez and Cal Raleigh in the fifth inning and a two-run blast to Dominic Canzone. Estes walked one and struck out two over 4 2/3 innings.
"For this young man, at 21, to be making a major league debut, says a lot about the organization's belief in his abilities," Oakland manager Mark Kotsay said. "The confidence we have in him as well. Through the season, he's been able to make an impression that he's capable of coming here and competing at the highest level."
The rebuilding A's (48-109) set a single-season record for losses since moving to Oakland in 1968 with an 11-3 setback in Tuesday night's series opener.
Minnesota jumped to a 5-0 lead in the first inning against starter Paul Blackburn. Blackburn walked three consecutive batters, including Kyle Farmer with the bases loaded to force in the first run, and then allowed a mammoth 463-foot grand slam to rookie outfielder Matt Wallner.
Donovan Solano had his eighth career four-hit game and scored three times, Alex Kirilloff hit a two-run homer, and Christian Vazquez added a three-run double for the Twins, who have won five of their last six games.
It was the 13th home run of the season for Wallner and his second grand slam. The drive to right-center landed near the top of the upper deck.
"To be able to grab an early lead against a good starting pitcher like that is a really good thing," Baldelli said of Blackburn. "Wallner ... one of the furthest balls I've ever seen hit. Ever. And that's in 20-something years of professional baseball. It was truly like a rocket as it went into the night."
--Field Level Media