As the saying goes, a baseball season is a marathon — not a sprint. But even a marathon can feature a finishing kick.
The Kansas City Royals (74-87) will host the Minnesota Twins (72-89) on Sunday as both teams cross the finish line of the 162-game season.
The Twins will start left-hander Charlie Barnes (0-3, 5.86 ERA) after recalling him from Triple-A St. Paul. The Royals will counter with right-hander Jackson Kowar (0-5, 11.28).
The Twins evened the three-game series with a 4-0 victory Saturday night. Rookie Griffin Jax (4-5) had the best outing of his career, allowing just one hit and two walks in five innings.
Reflecting on the 2021 season, Royals manager Mike Matheny said it has been a mix of short sprints and long, grueling treks through the marsh.
“It’s been pretty consistent with seasons past,” he said before the start of the series Friday. “There’s different periods. Late June, for whatever reason, was one of those periods. You just feel the everyday nature of what you do. I don’t care what you do every day. If you do it enough, you start to feel the demands of what you do.
“But once you hit the All Star break, you feel invigorated. Then you start to see some better baseball. It’s flown since the break, and it goes hand in hand with guys playing well. When they’re playing well, you just can’t wait to get back to the field and show it off again.”
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli had a similar sentiment about his team, which will finish last in the AL Central after back-to-back division titles.
“We sign up for all types of seasons,” he said. “We don’t just sign up for the good ones; we sign up for all of them. There were many challenges for us. We didn’t perform the way we needed to. We have to own that.”
For Kansas City, some of Matheny’s enthusiasm has been propelled by the pursuit of the team record for home runs by catcher Salvador Perez.
Perez already has the record for a player who has played at least 75 percent of his team’s games at catcher. He passed Hall of Famer Johnny Bench with his 46th on Sept. 20.
He enters Sunday’s game with 48, tied with Jorge Soler, who set the record two seasons ago. Before Soler, no Royal had ever hit 40. Perez is battling an ankle sprain, but he’s still in the lineup chasing the record.
“There have been a number of times where he’s been compromised this season, but he still does something that blows us away,” Matheny said. “I know he wants to do it so badly. You can’t help but have it on your mind. We’re all hoping for it. Every time he walks out of the dugout, the fans are going nuts, which makes for a cool atmosphere.”
Kowar was named the Royals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year. But he has not found similar success with the big-league club. Kowar went 9-4 with a 3.46 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 17 overall appearances (16 starts) over two stints with Triple-A Omaha. But in seven starts with Kansas City, he’s allowed fewer than four runs only once.
Barnes has not gone longer than five innings all season, but with no games left to play, Baldelli doesn’t need him to last long to save the bullpen. He’ll face the Royals for the first time in his career.
–Field Level Media