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Sep 23, 2022 8:12 am

Beaten-down Twins now draw Angels’ Shohei Ohtani

All things considered, it hasn’t been a September to remember for the Minnesota Twins.

Minnesota (73-77), in contention for the American League Central crown at the start of the month, now is in a battle just to finish above .500.

The Twins begin their final homestand of the season on Friday night against the Los Angeles Angels (65-85).

The injury-plagued Twins limp home off a dismal 1-7 road trip that concluded with only two hits in a 4-1 loss at Kansas City on Thursday afternoon, their fourth consecutive defeat. For the month, Minnesota is just 6-15.

“To be frank about it, disappointing and probably as low on the scale as you can imagine,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said of the road trip. “I don’t know how it can be more challenging for the group.”

How about a series opener against reigning AL MVP, Angels right-hander Shohei Ohtani (13-8, 2.43 ERA)?

Ohtani, in a battle with Aaron Judge of the Yankees for this year’s MVP, will be pitching in Minnesota for the first time in his career. It also will be just his second start against the Twins. The other came in his rookie season in 2018 in Anaheim when he didn’t figure in the decision.

“When you run into the team that we’re about to play, their center fielder (Mike Trout) and the guy on the mound (Ohtani), they’re generational-type talent,” Baldelli told twincities.com. “They’re among the most talented people in the world at what they do. I think you take pride in competing against them.”

The problem for the Twins is that six members of their Opening Day starting lineup are among 18 players currently on the injured list: center fielder Byron Buxton, second baseman Jorge Polanco, first baseman Miguel Sano, left fielder Alex Kirilloff, catcher Ryan Jeffers and right fielder Max Kepler.

That has opened up spots on the roster for a couple of local products, right-handed starter Louie Varland (0-1, 5.23 ERA) and right fielder Matt Wallner, to make their home debuts on Friday night.

Varland, drafted out of Concordia University-St. Paul who prepped at North High School in North St. Paul, will be making his third major league start. He last pitched Saturday at Cleveland and allowed four runs on nine hits in a 5-1 loss.

“It’s going to be a showdown with Shohei,” Varland told twincities.com. “I’m really excited to pitch against him and to pitch in a duel against him.”

The 6-foot-5 Wallner prepped at nearby Forest Lake (Minn.) High School before starring at Southern Mississippi. He is batting .320 with a home run, two doubles and four RBIs in seven games.

Ohtani is batting .271 with 34 home runs and 89 RBIs. On the mound, he is just four strikeouts shy of 200 for the season and he leads the American League with an average of 11.92 strikeouts per nine innings in his bid for back-to-back MVPs.

“I don’t take this for granted at all,” interim Angels manager Phil Nevin told MLB.com about Ohtani’s accomplishments. “We’re all seeing things that we haven’t seen before; to be that dominant on both sides. I’ve said it before, he’s the most valuable player of our game right now, and until somebody can come in and do the things he does on both sides, I don’t see it going any other way.”

–Field Level Media

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