MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins are through the final major hurdle on their schedule — and they hung tough for three games against one of the best teams in the American League.

Randy Arozarena broke a tie in the top of the ninth with a third-deck homer off reliever Griffin Jax, and that made the difference as the Twins dropped a tough rubber game to the Rays, 5-4, on Wednesday afternoon at Target Field to lose a series for the first time in September.

The Twins got another clutch knock with Max Kepler’s left-on-left triple in the fifth inning to push the game to a 4-4 tie, and they got three solid innings of relief from Emilio Pagán and Caleb Thielbar through the late innings. But Jax allowed his first homer since Aug. 16 as Tampa Bay paid Minnesota back in turn for Willi Castro’s late game-winner on Tuesday night.

  • Games remaining: at CWS (4), at CIN (3), vs. LAA (3), vs. OAK (3), at COL (3)
  • Standings update: The Twins (76-70) hold a 7 1/2-game lead on the Guardians (69-78) for the AL Central title. Cleveland clinched the tiebreaker by winning the season series, 7-6. Minnesota is currently the third-best division winner, meaning it would host a best-of-three Wild Card Series vs. the final Wild Card entrant starting on Oct. 3.
  • Magic number: 9 (for AL Central)

“You always want to go into the playoffs, or a chance to the playoffs, putting your best foot forward,” said Dallas Keuchel, who allowed four runs on six hits and three walks in four-plus innings. “Honestly, the month of September for us is no joke. It’s a good taste of hot teams, teams that have done really well throughout the course of the season so far. I think we’ve matched up well with everybody.”

With only 16 games remaining, the Twins maintained a 7 1/2-game lead in the AL Central. The only winning team left on their schedule is the Reds, who are embroiled in a tight battle for the final National League Wild Card berth. Aside from Cincinnati, all remaining opponents are fourth- and fifth-place teams as Minnesota’s magic number reached the single digits.

The Twins don’t want to get caught looking ahead. But as the postseason inches closer, they’ve still got plenty to figure out, including answers to the following two questions elicited by Wednesday’s outcome:

Can they find rest for key players?
After Christian Vázquez came off the bench for a game-ending strikeout, manager Rocco Baldelli was open about the fact that he was trying to stay away from Carlos Correa in almost all circumstances. It could behoove the Twins down the stretch to get their banged-up players off their feet.

“There are going to be a few days where the guys that play regularly, they might be off at this point if we can make it work,” Baldelli said.

Correa, clearly, could be among those players, as he has played in a team-leading 132 games this season despite being hindered by plantar fasciitis in his left heel — and that foot has taken a beating in the past few days. Similarly, Edouard Julien has been playing through a strained hamstring and could do with some rest if the Twins can find it.

And clearly, the Twins are starting to ease the workload on their starting rotation, as they’ve listed a TBD slot in Friday’s game to space it out before it turns back over to Pablo López during their road series in Chicago against the White Sox. How much could López and Sonny Gray — the club’s top two pitchers in a possible playoff rotation — be preserved?

How will the new bullpen pieces fit?
The Twins have had to lean heavily on Jax this season in key spots. And though Thielbar and Pagán have also stepped up in high-leverage moments, this is a part of the roster that could still clearly use help in bigger situations down the stretch.

By the time the Twins return on Sept. 22 from their road trip through Chicago and Cincinnati, they could have a legion of reinforcements on the way — including Brock Stewart, Chris Paddack and Jorge Alcala as potential bullpen options, and not much time remaining in the regular season to evaluate them.

Of that group, Stewart figures to be of the greatest significance, as he was arguably the club’s best reliever when he went on the injured list with right elbow soreness on June 27. Can he slide back in without much of a transition period?

Baldelli also noted that Louie Varland might continue getting used in shorter stints, and he could be thrust into some key spots. The Twins will have to gauge his readiness for that role, too, and where he could fit in that regard.

“He’s going to be the guy, or one of them, that clearly is going to move from throwing in the fourth inning to throwing in the sixth inning to throwing in the eighth inning,” Baldelli said. “He’s going to have to be ready for all of that.”