by Dan Cook, WCCO Radio
The Twins just finished a crucial 10-game homestand and while you can’t call it a rousing success, you can’t exactly call it a complete disaster.
Minnesota entered the homestand on September 14th trailing Texas by a single game for the second Wild Card spot in the American League. They leave for their final road trip of the season trailing Houston by 1.5 games.
With 10 games remaining in the season, they’re still very much in the mix. However, given how well they’ve played at home this season, the club was certainly hoping for better than a 4-6 record during this critical stretch.
Here are some notes and musings from the series against Detroit, Los Angeles and Cleveland…
It was only three games against the Tigers, but given the circumstances of the final contest, it felt more like five.
The series began well enough, with Tyler Duffey pitching a solid 6.1 innings as Joe Mauer, Trevor Plouffe & Eduardo Escobar bolstered the Twins offense en route to a 7-1 victory.
But starting with the second game against Detroit, the vibe of the homestand took a decided, jarring and at times lengthy turn.
Detroit jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead off of Phil Hughes who was trying to shake off the rust after a lengthy stay on the disabled list. The Twins battled back but could never get over the hump as Detroit went on to win 5-4.
Wednesday night’s finale began with an hour-long rain delay, which of course, led to a 4:17 minute, 12-inning contest. All of which is immediately forgiven in the minds of the faithful who hung around all four hours, provided the home team wins.
But in this case, Detroit plated three runs in the top of the 12th, which the Twins weren’t able to match.
1-2 clearly wasn’t what the Twins had in mind given Detroit’s struggles and getting to miss Justin Verlander.
It’s Eddie’s World…
Miguel Sano is going to finish higher in the Rookie of the Year voting, but Eddie Rosario has proven worthy of consideration. A point he reminded fans about by hitting .429/.500/1.143 in the 3-game set against Detroit.
Rosario has hit 12 home runs, 17 doubles and a league-leading 14 triples in the 114 games he’s played for the Twins in his rookie campaign.
Baseball Reference has him at 2.0 WAR and Fangraphs has him at 1.9, both of which have him squarely in the top 10 among AL rookies.
All the rookie focus coming into the season was on Buxton and Sano, but Rosario has established himself as a legitimate threat to be a part of the Twins starting outfield for years to come.
Angels in the Outfield (and everywhere else)…
The Twins had a chance to hit the reset button and get the homestand back on track against the Halos. Unfortunately Mr. Trout and company had other ideas.
Game 1 wasn’t quite as long as the finale with Detroit, but it still clocked in just shy of four hours. Another 12-inning nail-biter? Not exactly…
Both Tommy Milone and Hector Santiago had disaster-starts. Milone lasting just an inning and a third while Santiago couldn’t even get out of the first. 15 total pitchers shared the mound over the course of nine innings – thank you September call-ups!
By the time things were said and done, Mike Trout had hit two homers (one a grand slam), driven in five runs, scored three himself, and mixed in three walks. Because why would you pitch to a guy you can’t seem to get out?
Torii Hunter and Aaron Hicks tried to keep the Twins in it with the long ball, but the Angels took Game 11-8.
Game 2 became Game 2.1 when mother nature interfered on Friday and created the first double-header of the year at Target Field on Saturday.
When a club’s scheduled to play two, the LAST thing they want is for either game to go extra innings. So of course the first game went 12.
The Twins and Angels were knotted up at three runs apiece until a combination of an error, a wild pitch, a sacrifice bunt and a ground-out plated the go-ahead (and eventual winning) run for Los Angeles, who went on to win 4-3.
The stand-out highlight for the Twins was a gargantuan home run hit by Miguel Sano. The two-run shot was estimated at 453 feet (statcast had it at 448). Either way it was the longest of the year for the Twins and by definition the longest of his career.
Would the Twins bounce back in the nightcap? Not so much.
Mike Pelfrey was on the mound, and started solidly, but ran out of gas in the 5th, when LA got to him for three runs which turned out to be all they needed as they cruised to a 5-2 win – which included yet another long ball from Mike Trout
Paul Molitor says he doesn’t like the term “must win”, at least not in a game where you can’t be eliminated from anything. But Sunday’s finale with the Angels certainly had that kind of urgent feel to it, and the Twins reacted accordingly.
Tyler Duffey set the tone for Minnesota, allowing just four base-runners over the course of his seven innings, none of whom advanced beyond first base. LA didn’t get a man past second until the 8th and didn’t score a run until the 9th.
Meanwhile Torii Hunter, Eddie Rosario and Joe Mauer all went yard en route to an 8-1 victory.
The win snapped a 5-game losing streak and highlighted a critical difference between the 2015 Twins and Minnesota teams over the past four years. This year’s club has limited the length of their losing streaks and has pretty quickly bounced back with good stretches to balance them out.
They’d need to do just that against Cleveland in order to salvage the homestand.
The aforementioned Sano homer against the Angels was his 17th of the season.
That tied him for 5th among all rookies in baseball, only Miguel achieved it in 26 fewer games than the guy he’s tied with, Randal Grichuck of the St. Louis Cardinals.
17 homers also places him 8th on the Twins all-time rookie home runs list. He’ll have to hit three more to tie his batting coach, Tom Brunansky for 7th.
The all-time record holder for the Twins is Jimmie Hall who hit 33 round-trippers in his rookie campaign in 1963.
Wilkommen auf der Karte…
“Welcome to the Show” was the phrase of the day as the Twins kicked off their 3-game series with Cleveland on Tuesday.
Why in German? Because OF/1B prospect Max Kepler was joining the team after helping the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts win the Southern League Championship.
Along the way, he was named Southern League MVP hitting .322 with 32 doubles, 13 triples, nine homers and 71 RBI.
The 22-year-old “aus Berlin” had spent six years in the minor leagues after the Twins signed him as a free agent. He battled injuries on and off and finally seems to have his career on track.
Manager Paul Molitor said he’d certainly try to get Max some action, though he wasn’t sure exactly when since the Twins are in the middle of a playoff chase and each at-bat is critical.
To date, Kepler has yet to make his Major League debut.
2 Out of 3 Ain’t Bad… Unless You Really Need That 3rd Game…
The win in the series finale against LA seemed to spur the Twins on as they began their 3-game set with Cleveland.
In the first game, the Twins rode a 7-inning, 1-run performance by Ervin Santana to a 3-1 win. It was Santana’s fifth straight Quality Start. Over those five games, Santana has pitched 36 innings, striking out 39 to only 9 men walked, and gone 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA. A significant turn-around for a guy who was looking like a serious bust after a rocky return from his half-season suspension for PED use.
The Twins got all the runs they’d need in the third. Aaron Hicks, Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer went triple-double-double to do the damage. Minnesota’s had plenty of what some pundits term “cluster-luck” – grouping the few hits you get together to score runs – this season.
The Twins knew they were in for a test in Game 2 as they face 2014 Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber. Kluber came into the game 2-0 vs. Minnesota in 2015 with a 1.38 ERA. In his career, he was 6-2 with a 3.22 ERA against the Twins.
Sometimes, however, it takes just one inning to blow up a narrative. That inning was the 4th for the Twins as they scored four runs on a Brian Dozier homer, a Trevor Plouffe double and an Eduardo Escobar single.
Like the night before, the Twins scored all the runs they’d get in a single inning. Also like the night before, they’d be enough – despite a 9th inning scare – to hold on for the win, this time by a score of 4-3.
Minnesota came into the finale with Cleveland with a chance to draw within a half-game of Houston for the 2nd Wild Card spot, making it an obviously-critical game.
Unfortunately, the game was all but decided by the third inning.
Kyle Gibson didn’t have his good stuff, and Cleveland jumped all over him, plating three in the first and three more in the third before Paul Molitor finally (perhaps mercifully) ended his night.
Torii Hunter and Eddie Rosario tried to get the Twins back in it with homers in the 7th and 8th innings, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.
Cleveland took the finale, 6-3.
Mauer Goes Streaking…
One highlight of Thursday night’s otherwise dreary showing? Joe Mauer broke the Twins record for consecutive games reaching base. He was 0-for-his-first-3 at-bats on the night, but worked an 8th-inning walk off of Cleveland’s Bryan Shaw to set the mark.
Mauer passed Bob Allison who reached in 42 straight games in 1961.
Over the course of his 43 games, Mauer hit .270 with 11 doubles, three homers, 19 RBI, 26 walks and a .368 on-base percentage.
While 43 games tops Minnesota’s all-time list, it’s actually only the 3rd-longest such streak in baseball this season. Matt Holiday of the Cardinals reached in 45 straight, while Edwin Encarnacion reached in 44 straight for the Blue Jays.
Joe needs just 42 more games to break the MLB record (84), set by Ted Williams in 1949.
The next homestand will be the final homestand of the regular season for the Twins. After heading out for three games in Detroit and four in Cleveland, the Twins will return home to face the newly-minted 2015 AL Central Champion Kansas City Royals for three games starting Friday, October 2nd.
The Twins hope those games will still find them in the hunt for a Wild Card berth, since it’s likely Kansas City will be granting some rest to their regulars in order to prepare for the post-season.
Friday is a 7:10p start. Saturday’s game begins at 6:10p. And the regular season finale will bow at 2:10pm on Sunday.