There's a fantastical number of 14 that's looking really small given the Twins' remaining schedule.
MINNESOTA 2, BOSTON 1 IN BOSTON
Date: Thursday, September 5.
Batting stars: Willians Astudillo was 1-for-1. Miguel Sano was 0-for-1 with three walks. Mitch Garver was 0-for-1 with three walks.
Pitching stars: Martin Perez pitched six innings, giving up one run on two hits and two walks and striking out one. Trevor May pitched a perfect inning and struck out one. Tyler Duffey struck out two in a perfect inning.
Opposition stars: Mookie Betts was 2-for-4 with a home run (his twenty-sixth) and a double. Nathan Eovaldi pitched five innings, giving up one run on one hit and four walks and striking out three.
The game: Neither team even threatened until the fourth, when Betts led off the inning with a home run to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead. The Twins got the run back in the fifth, although it wasn't easy. They opened the inning with three walks, loading the bases with one out. Then they did what the Twins usually do with the bases loaded. A double play scored a run and a line out ended the inning. Still, at least it was tied 1-1.
Boston threatened in the sixth when Betts got a two-out double and Xander Bogaerts walked, and a pickoff error moved them to second and third, but a ground out ended the inning. In the seventh, a pair of one-out walks and a two-out walk again loaded the bases for the Twins. Astudillo pinch-hit a single to bring home the go-ahead run. They missed a chance for more when Max Kepler struck out, but it was a 2-1 lead for the good guys.
It stayed there, but it wasn't easy. The Twins missed another chance in the ninth, when a two-out walk and and an error put men on first and second. In the bottom of the ninth, Bogaerts got a one-out single. A force out made the runner Rafael Devers with two out. J. D. Martinez then doubled off the Green Monster. Devers tried to score from first, but was cut down on a perfect throw by Eddie Rosario to end the game.
WP: Perez (10-6). LP: Andrew Cashner (11-8). S: Taylor Rogers (24).
Notes: Byron Buxton remained out of the lineup, although he pinch-ran and stayed in the game for defense. Jake Cave was in center and Kepler in right, a reversal of the way the Twins have been playing. I don't know if Kepler's health had anything to do with that. Luis Arraez was at shortstop in place of Jorge Polanco.
Arraez was 1-for-3 with a walk and is batting .343. Nelson Cruz was 0-for-4 and is batting .305. Duffey has an ERA of 2.59. Sergio Romo gave up one hit and no runs in a third of an inning and has an ERA of 3.00. Rogers gave up one hit and no runs in two-thirds of an inning and has an ERA of 2.49.
Perez is probably the last Twins starter one would expect to be in an old-fashioned pitchers' duel. And he did it in an old-fashioned way, getting only one strikeout, but giving up only two hits. I don't know if he got a lot of soft contact or if his defense made some good plays or some of both. It's not the recommended way to go about it these days, but it worked.
Was Polanco unavailable for some reason? I mean, it's one thing to give him a night off--Rocco has actually been very good about keeping everyone rested, and I don't have a problem with that. But I don't know why, when the Twins had a late lead, you wouldn't play Polanco at short and Arraez at second, rather than leaving Arraez at short and playing Astudillo at second. They could've gone with Ehire Adrianza at second as well, but the game log indicated that perhaps he was unavailable. Much as I have faith in A-Stud to be able to do everything that it's humanly possible to do on a baseball field, and perhaps something that are not humanly possible as well, the defensive arrangement they went to late in the game is not the defensive arrangement I'd have preferred. Still, they won the game.
I was unable to watch any of the game and just turned on the radio to hear the last two batters. Given that the play at the plate ended the game, I kept expecting to hear that Boston was asking for a review, just because there'd be nothing to lose. When I saw the play, though, I understood why they didn't. There was simply nothing to review. Rosario made a beautiful throw and Devers was as out as it's possible for a baserunner to be. It was a tremendous way to end a tremendous game.
I wonder sometimes if the Twins might have a better chance to score with two out and nobody on than they do with the bases loaded. I'm sure that's not literally true, but it sure seems like it is.
So the Twins go into a weekend series with a 6.5 game lead on second-place Cleveland. Even if the Twins lose all three, they're still up by 3.5 games with three weeks to play, which isn't a bad place to be at all. If they just win one, they're up 5.5, which is an even better place to be. If they'd win the series, or even sweep, the Indians would start focusing on winning the wild card. ubelmann used to tell us that it's not really a "must win" game unless a loss eliminates you, and there's truth in that. In baseball, as in life, nothing is certain until it actually happens. Still, I'd much rather be in Minnesota's position than in Cleveland's position right now.
Record: The Twins are 87-53, in first place in the American League Central, 6.5 games ahead of Cleveland.
Projected record: We're still on track for 109-53!
MINNESOTA 8, CHICAGO 2 IN CHICAGO
Date: Wednesday, August 28.
Batting stars: Mitch Garver was 3-for-4 with a two-run homer (his twenty-fourth), a hit-by-pitch, and two runs. Jonathan Schoop was 2-for-4 with two home runs (his twentieth and twenty-first) and four RBIs. Jorge Polanco was 2-for-5 with a double.
Pitching stars: Jake Odorizzi struck out eight in six innings, giving up two runs on five hits and two walks. Trevor May struck out three in a scoreless inning, giving up one hit. Cody Stashak pitched two shutout innings, giving up three hits and striking out one.
Opposition stars: Jose Abreu was 2-for-4 with a double. Tim Anderson was 2-for-4 with a double. Jimmy Cordero pitched two shutout innings, giving up one hit.
The game: Doubles by Leury Garcia and Abreu put the White Sox on the board in the first inning with a 1-0 lead. The Twins came right back in the second. Eddie Rosario led off with a bloop single, Ehire Adrianza hit a two-out single, and Schoop came through with a three-run homer, putting the Twins up 3-1. They added two in the third on just one hit. Garver was hit by a pitch, Jorge Polanco doubled, and Nelson Cruz was intentionally walked to fill the bases. A force out brought home one run and an error brought home another, making the score 5-1. The Twins again loaded the bases in the fourth, getting two-out singles from Garver and Polanco and another intentional walk to Cruz, but Rosario grounded out to end the threat.
Chicago got a run back in the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Yoan Moncada and Anderson singled and Eloy Jimenez walked, giving the White Sox loaded bases. They were not more successful than the Twins, getting a force out to bring home one run, but no more. Chicago put two on with two out in the fifth, but could do nothing with that, either.
The Twins put the game out of reach in the eighth. With one out, Schoop homered, Jake Cave doubled, and Garver homered, making the score 8-2.
WP: Odorizzi (14-6). LP: Ross Detwiler (2-4). S: None.
Notes: Cave was in center in the absence of Byron Buxton. Adrianza was in right in the absence of both Max Kepler and Marwin Gonzalez. An outfield of Rosario-Cave-Adrianza is obviously less than ideal, but the Twins don't have a lot of options. LaMonte Wade has just started a rehab assignment in Pensacola. Zander Weil is probably the next-best outfielder in Rochester, but I know nothing about his defense. The best option may be to hope Kepler and Gonzalez can bounce back quickly.
I see that Miguel Sano was hit by a pitch and was eventually replaced by Luis Arraez. I don't know whether that's something to be concerned about. Arraez was 1-for-2 and is now batting .336.
The first three batters hit Odorizzi pretty hard, but he certainly settled down after that. He allowed only three more hits and one more run over the next six innings. That's the Odorizzi the Twins need. The bullpen came through as well. Trevor May has quietly been pitching quite well over the last month. In his last eleven games (12.1 innings), he has given up just one earned run on five hits and three walks and has struck out fifteen. Other than one game against Atlanta, Stashak has also done pretty well.
In his last five games, Schoop has gone 6-for-17. That's good, but what's really impressive is that five of the six hits have gone over the fence. That's a slugging average of 1.235, which I'm pretty sure would be a record if you did it for a season. He won't do it for the season, of course, but it's a pretty good run, even in a small sample size.
Today the Twins go for the sweep. Whether they get will depend to a large extent on whether Jose Berrios can pitch like Jose Berrios. I said a couple of weeks ago that he was not one of the Twins' problems, and since then he's gone out and proven me wrong. In his four August starts, he is 0-2, 8.44, 1.97 WHIP. The Twins say it's an issue with his mechanics. Hopefully a trip to Wes Johnson's repair shop has solved his mechanical problems and he can get back to pitching the way the Twins need him to.
Record: The Twins are 81-51, in first place, 3.5 games ahead of Cleveland.
Projected record: We're still on track for 111-51!
MILWAUKEE 6, MINNESOTA 5 IN MILWAUKEE
Date: Wednesday, August 14.
Batting stars: Mitch Garver was 1-for-5 with a home run, his twenty-third. Eddie Rosario was 1-for-4 with a home run (his twenty-sixth) and a walk. Miguel Sano was 1-for-4 with a home run (his twenty-first) and a walk.
Pitching stars: Sam Dyson struck out two in a scoreless inning, giving up one hit. Trevor May struck out two in a scoreless inning, giving up a walk.
Opposition stars: Eric Thames was 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. Trent Grisham was 2-for-4 with a three-run homer (his second), a walk, and two runs. Keston Hiura was 2-for-4 with a walk.
The game: It looked good for quite a while. Garver led off the game with a home run and Rosario hit a two-out homer to give the Twins a 2-0 lead in the first inning. The Brewers got one back in the bottom of the first when Grisham singled, Yasmani Grandal walked, and Hiura delivered an RBI single.
Each team scored once in the third. Sano hit a one-out homer in the top of the inning. In the bottom, a one-out single by Hiura and two-out singles by Lorenzo Cain and Thames made the score 3-2.
With one out in the top of the fourth, Max Kepler walked, Jonathan Schoop doubled, and Kyle Gibson walked to load the bases. Garver struck out, but Jorge Polanco came through with a two-run single to put the Twins up 5-2. Milwaukee again got one back in the fifth when Mike Moustakas doubled and scored on a Thames single.
The score stayed 5-3 until the eighth. Ryan Braun led off by reaching on a Polanco error. Hernan Perez singled and Grisham followed with a three-run homer, giving the Brewers their first lead of the day at 6-5. The Twins tried to rally in the ninth. With two out, walks to Polanco, Sano, and Rosario loaded the bases. Unfortunately, Matt Albers then found the strike zone again and retired C. J. Cron on a deep fly to center to end the game.
WP: Junior Guerra (6-3). LP: Sergio Romo (2-1). S: Albers (4).
Notes: Kepler remained in center and Marwin Gonzalez in right with Byron Buxton out. Schoop was at second base rather than Luis Arraez, who was used as a pinch-hitter in the ninth. Arraez went 0-for-1 and is batting .348.
It's probably past time to admit that Gibson is never going to take that step forward and become a top pitcher. He is what he is--an average major league starting pitcher--and as he approaches his thirty-second birthday it's unlikely that he'll ever be more than that. That's not a criticism, exactly. There's value in being an average major league starting pitcher. Teams have missed the playoffs because they didn't have one. But I think a lot of the frustration with him comes from people thinking that he could be better than that and that he ought to be better than that. It's just not likely to happen. It's time to simply accept what he is.
We've discussed the number of winnable games the Twins have lost this season. The term "winnable game" is not easy to define. The only way to really know how many the Twins have lost would be to go back through all their games, and even then the definition would be somewhat subjective. And yes, one of the reasons that they've lost more winnable games this year is that they've played more winnable games--there haven't been that many times when they've been blown out. Still, if you want to be a top team, you have to win a pretty high percentage of your winnable games. That's the only way you get a good won-lost record, and that's the way we determine what teams are the top teams. Every time you lose one of those winnable games, it costs you.
The good news, though, is that the Twins are still a half game up on Cleveland. They don't have to win a specific number of games or achieve a certain winning percentage to win the division. They just need to win one more game than Cleveland does in the last forty-two games of the season. We'll see if they can.
Record: The Twins are 72-48, in first place in the American League Central, a half game ahead of Cleveland.
Projected record: We'll just have to settle for 114-48!
MINNESOTA 7, MILWAUKEE 5 IN MILWAUKEE
Date: Tuesday, August 13.
Batting stars: Marwin Gonzalez was 2-for-4 with a three-run homer (his fourteenth) and two runs. Eddie Rosario was 2-for-4 with a double, a walk, and two runs. Mitch Garver was 1-for-5 with a two-run homer, his twenty-second.
Pitching stars: Martin Perez pitched six innings, giving up an unearned run on six hits and four walks and striking out three. Tyler Duffey pitched a scoreless inning, giving up a hit and a walk and striking out one. Sam Dyson pitched a perfect inning and struck out one. Sergio Romo pitched a scoreless inning.
Opposition stars: Yasmani Grandal was 2-for-4 with a three-run homer (his twentieth) and a walk. Manny Pina was 2-for-4 with a double and a hit-by-pitch. Keston Hiura was 2-for-4 with a walk.
The game: Each team missed chances early. The Brewers had men on first and third in each of the first two innings and did not score. The Twins put men on first and second with one out in the second and did not score. In the third, however, Max Kepler led off with a walk and Garver followed with a two-run homer. With one out, Rosario walked, went to third on a Miguel Sano single, and scored on a ground out to put the Twins up 3-0.
Milwaukee again put two men on in the third and did not score. They got on the board in the fourth, though. Hernan Perez got a one-out single. Chase Anderson's bunt should have resulted in an inning-ending double play, but an error instead put men on first and third with one out. A force out brought home a run, cutting the lead to 3-1. The Brewers again missed a chance in the fifth, as they failed to do anything with a leadoff double.
The Twins got an insurance run in the seventh, as Gonzalez singled, went to second on a wild pitch, and scored on Ehire Adrianza's pinch-hit double. It was 4-1 and looking good for the visitors. In the bottom of the seventh, however, Hiura led off with a single and scored on a Christian Yelich double. Catcher's interference put men on first and second and Grandal delivered a three-run homer, giving Milwaukee its first lead at 5-4. Suddenly, things weren't looking so good for the visitors after all.
But the Twins would not be denied. Rosario led off the eighth with a double and Sano walked. The next two batters went out, but Gonzalez came through with a three-run homer for the Twins, putting them up 7-5. Dyson and Romo came in to slam the door and make it a Minnesota victory.
WP: Duffey (2-1). LP: Drew Pomeranz (2-10). S: Romo (19).
Notes: It remained Kepler in center and Gonzalez in right, with Byron Buxton remaining out.
Luis Arraez was 1-for-3 with a walk and is batting .350.
Perez got through six innings and gave up just an unearned run. It wasn't pretty, as the Brewers had a threat in pretty much every inning. For the game, Milwaukee stranded twelve runners and went 1-for-12 with men in scoring position. It's hard to tell whether Perez actually pitched better or just got lucky. Whatever it was, though, we'll take it.
It may well be that this is well-known and I just missed it (I went to bed before the ninth), but I don't know why Romo was used to close the game rather than Taylor Rogers. I saw a game story that said Rogers was "apparently unavailable", but it didn't say why. It worked out, but the Twins definitely need a healthy Taylor Rogers coming down the stretch.
This felt like a really big win for the Twins. Yes, momentum is as good as the next day's starting pitcher, and if the Twins go on to lose five of the next six this game won't mean much of anything. But when the Twins lost the lead in the seventh, a lot of people (including me) thought, "Here we go again". Another winnable game lost. Another game blown by the bullpen. Couple that with Cleveland appearing to come back on Boston, and it looked like the Twins would lose yet another game in the standings. Instead, they gained a game and find themselves back in first place. Time will tell how big this game actually was, but it feels pretty big right now.
Record: The Twins are 72-47, first in the American League Central, a half game ahead of Cleveland.
Projected record: We're still on track for 115-47!
MINNESOTA 6, OAKLAND 3 IN MINNESOTA
Date: Thursday, July 18.
Batting stars: Eddie Rosario was 1-for-1 with a three-run homer, his twenty-first. Mitch Garver was 1-for-4 with a home run, his sixteenth. C. J. Cron was 1-for-4 with a home run, his eighteenth. Luis Arraez was 1-for-2 with a double and two walks. Miguel Sano was 1-for-2 with two walks and two runs.
Pitching stars: Kyle Gibson struck out seven in seven innings, giving up three runs on six hits and no walks. Taylor Rogers pitched two shutout innings, giving up two hits and striking out one.
Opposition stars: Ramon Laureano was 3-for-4 with two runs. Jurickson Profar was 1-for-4 with a two-run homer, his fourteenth. Mike Fiers pitched 6.1 innings, giving up three runs on six hits and four walks and striking out four.
The game: The Athletics put men on first and third with two out in the second, but there was no score until the third, when Sano walked, went to second on a Jake Cave single, took third on a bunt, and scored on a wild pitch. Oakland immediately tied it in the fourth, as Laureano singled, went to second on a wild pitch, and scored on a Khris Davis double.
The Twins missed a chance in the fifth, putting men on first and second with none out and running themselves out of the inning. It looked like it would be costly, as the Athletics took the lead in the sixth. Laureano singled with one out and Profar hit a two-out two-run homer, putting Oakland up 3-1. But in the seventh, Arraez hit a one-out double, Sano walked, and Rosario, pinch-hitting for Cave, hit a three-run homer to give the Twins a 4-3 lead.
Oakland got a pair of one-out singles in the eighth, but a strikeout and a fly out ended the inning. The Twins then got some insurance, as Garver and Cron each homered to make it 6-3. The Athletics went down in order in the ninth.
WP: Gibson (9-4). LP: Yusmeiro Petit (2-2). S: Rogers (14).
Notes: Max Kepler was in center field and Cave in right, with Byron Buxton still out. Marwin Gonzalez was in left, replacing Rosario. When Rosario entered the game, he went to left, with Gonzalez in right. Arraez was at second base with Jonathan Schoop still out. Ehire Adrianza was at shortstop, replacing Jorge Polanco.
Arraez raised his average to .382. Rogers has an ERA of 1.61.
The Twins made two more errors, although this time none of them led to runs. Everyone keeps saying, "Well, Buxton's out", but Buxton isn't going to stop infielders from booting grounders or throwing the ball away. Anyone who says, "Defense doesn't go into a slump" hasn't been watching the Twins lately.
But, all's well that ends well. Gibson pitched a good game--not dominating, but seven innings, three runs, six hits, no walks is something you'd take from him every time. Rogers remains outstanding. Arraez had another good game. And Rosario, well, what more can you say?
And Miguel Sano has quietly been batting very well lately. He was 1-for-2 last night and he drew two walks, both of which led to runs. He's only batting .236 on the season, which isn't great, but his OBP is .324. Since June 27, when he went 0-for-7 in the eighteen inning game, he's batting .340/.436/.702. A productive Sano would be really helpful over the last two and a half months of the season.
Record: The Twins are 59-36, in first place in the American League Central, four games ahead of Cleveland.
Projected record: We're still on track for 126-36!
NEW YORK 14, MINNESOTA 4 IN MINNESOTA
Date: Wednesday, July 17.
Batting stars: Mitch Garver was 2-for-3 with a home run (his fifteenth) and a walk. Nelson Cruz was 1-for-4 with a home run, his eighteenth.
Pitching star: Martin Perez pitched six innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on five hits and a walk and striking out four.
Opposition stars: Amed Rosario was 4-for-4 with a home run (his tenth), a triple, a walk, four runs, and three RBIs. Adeiny Hechevarria was 3-for-5 with two doubles and two runs. Dominic Smith was 2-for-3 with a home run (his ninth), two runs, and four RBIs. Todd Frazier was 2-for-5. Pete Alonso was 1-for-6 with a two-run homer (his thirty-first) and two runs. Jason Vargas pitched six innings, giving up three runs on five hits and a walk and striking out four. Jeurys Familia pitched a scoreless inning, giving up one hit and striking out one.
The game: It was a good game until suddenly it wasn't. The Twins took a 1-0 lead in the second when Max Kepler hit a one-out double and Miguel Sano came through with a two-out single. The lead did not survive the next half-inning, as Rosario homered with one out in the third to tie it 1-1. Cruz put the Twins in front 2-1 with a one-out homer of his own in the bottom of the third, but the lead again did not survive the next half-inning. The Mets loaded the bases with none out on an error, a single, and a hit batsman. A double play scored the tying run, although it also enabled the Twins to escape without further damage. The Twins got the lead back in the fifth when Garver hit a one-out home run.
This time the lead lasted an inning and a half. In the seventh, Rosario singled, Hechevarria doubled, and Smith hit a three-run homer to give New York a 5-3 advantage. Then, in the eighth, the roof fell in, or it would have it Target Field had a roof. The Mets had two on with two out and Hechevarria hit a fly ball to Eddie Rosario in left. Rosario somehow did not catch it, allowing two runs to score. The error was followed by a double, a single, and a home run, and the score was 11-3. The Twins got one back in the bottom of the eighth, but as they are currently strapped with only a seven-man bullpen, Rocco had Ehire Adrianza pitch the ninth. He allowed three more runs, leading to a final of 14-4.
WP: Vargas (4-5). LP: Trevor May (3-3). S: None.
Notes: Max Kepler was in center and Marwin Gonzalez in right in the absence of Byron Buxton. Luis Arraez was at second base in the absence of Jonathan Schoop.
Jorge Polanco was 1-for-4 to hold his average at .307. Arraez was 1-for-4 and is batting .380.
Swept. By the Mets. By the Mets. A team that can barely get out of its own way. And we got swept by them.
Yes, I know all the excuses. These things happen in baseball, it was only a two-game series, we were using the back end of our rotation, every team goes through slumps, we've had injuries, we didn't get the breaks, blah blah blah blah blah. The bottom line is that we still got swept by the Mets. By the Mets.
Meanwhile, Cleveland was on the up end of a sweep. Yes, they were only playing the Tigers. And we were only playing the Mets. The Mets.
Good teams take care of business and win the games they're supposed to win. Also-rans make excuses. The Twins have been looking an awful lot like also-rans lately. I know, it's a long season. But it's slipping away, and so is the Twins' lead. I don't know what they need to do to turn things around, but they'd better figure something out, and they'd better do it soon.
Record: The Twins are 58-36, in first place in the American League Central, four games ahead of Cleveland.
Projected record: We'll just have to settle for 126-36!
MINNESOTA 5, CLEVELAND 3 IN CLEVELAND
Date: Friday, July 12.
Batting stars: Nelson Cruz was 1-for-4 with a home run (his seventeenth) and a walk. Mitch Garver was 1-for-4 with a home run, his fourteenth.
Pitching stars: Trevor May retired all four men he faced, striking out two. Zack Littell pitched a scoreless inning, giving up a hit and a walk and striking out one. Ryne Harper pitched a perfect inning and struck out one. Taylor Rogers struck out three in two shutout innings, giving up one hit.
Opposition stars: Mike Clevenger struck out six in five innings, giving up one run on four hits and two walks. Jose Ramirez was 2-for-4. Carlos Santana was 1-for-4 with a home run, his twentieth.
The game: Cruz hit a two-out home run in the first inning to give the Twins a 1-0 lead. The Indians got a man to second base in each of the first two innings but did not break through until the fourth. Santana homered to lead off the inning and tie the score. Jason Kipnis walked and an error put men on first and third. They were still on second and third with two out, but Roberto Perez singled to drive in two and give Cleveland a 3-1 lead.
It looked for a while like that might hold up. The Twins put men on second and third with none out in the fifth, but a ground out and two strikeouts ended the inning. They had men on first and second with one out in the sixth, but a double play ended that inning.
Then came the seventh. An error and a walk put men on first and third with two out. Max Kepler came up and hit a ground ball to shortstop. He was called out at first and it looked like yet another Twins threat had come to nothing. But the Twins challenged and a replay review determined that Kepler was safe, making the score 3-2. Jorge Polanco then swatted a two-run double and the Twins had a 4-3 lead. A Garver home run in the eighth made it 5-3. The Indians did not get a man past first base after the fourth inning.
WP: Littell (2-0). LP: Oliver Perez (2-2). S: Rogers (13).
Notes: Marwin Gonzalez was in left, replacing Eddie Rosario. Luis Arraez was at second base in place of Jonathan Schoop. Ehire Adrianza was at first base, replacing C. J. Cron.
Arraez was 1-for-4 and is batting .386. Polanco was 1-for-4 and is batting .311. May has an ERA of 2.94. Harper has an ERA of 2.84. Rogers has an ERA of 1.73.
Just looking at the printed play-by-play, it seems like a very quick hook for Kyle Gibson. They don't appear to have been hitting a lot of balls hard off him, and he certainly wasn't getting much help from his defense. I'm not second-guessing the decision, because a) there are always things you can't tell from the printed play-by-play and b) it clearly worked. The Much Maligned Twins Bullpen pitched 5.1 scoreless innings and really never even allowed Cleveland to put together a threat.
The quick hook showed that Rocco was not looking at this as just another game. He thought it was an important game for the Twins to win, and he was going to give them every chance to win it. It was a risk, because if the Twins hadn't come back he'd have used four or five relievers in a loss, which of course hurts you for the next game. He had the advantage of a fully rested bullpen after the all-star break, but it was still a gamble that he won.
I think he was right to not look at it as just another game. We said going in that by Sunday night the Twins' lead would either be 2.5, 4.5, 6.5, or 8.5 games, and that's obviously a big spread. We can eliminate the "2.5" now, and that's a very good thing. We'd all love to have it be one of the bigger numbers, but even if it's 4.5 it's not going to feel like things are falling apart, the way it would have had the Indians gotten a sweep. With Odorizzi and Berrios pitching the next two games, the Twins should have a good chance to win at least one of them. Of course, with Bauer and Bieber going, the Indians probably feel the same way.
One thing I like about Rocco is that he doesn't feel a need to make big announcements about what he's doing. He just does it. Rogers is clearly the closer now, even if he's not being used in the "traditional" way, but Rocco has never said he's the closer. Littell is clearly a one-inning guy now (he's pitched one inning in each of his last six appearances), but Rocco has never said he's a one-inning guy. He just uses him that way. If you don't make an announcement about it, then you don't feel locked in to doing it that way. You also don't have to explain to anyone if you do something differently from what you've announced. Of course, you have to get players to buy in to the fact that they aren't going to know exactly what their role is every day, but Rocco seems to be able to do that, at least so far.
Record: The Twins are 57-33, in first place in the American League Central, 6.5 games ahead of Cleveland.
Projected record: We're still on track for 129-33!
MINNESOTA 15, TEXAS 6 IN MINNESOTA
Date: Friday, July 5.
Batting stars: Marwin Gonzalez was 3-for-4 with a double, a hit-by-pitch, two runs and two RBIs. Jonathan Schoop was 3-for-5 with a home run (his fourteenth), two doubles, two runs, and four RBIs. Mitch Garver was 2-for-4 with a home run (his thirteenth), a double, a walk, and three runs. Max Kepler was 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Jorge Polanco was 2-for-5 with a two-run homer, his thirteenth. Luis Arraez was 2-for-5 with a home run, his second. C. J. Cron was 2-for-5 with two doubles, two runs, and two RBIs. Byron Buxton was 2-for-5 with two doubles and two runs.
Pitching stars: Martin Perez pitched six innings, giving up four runs on seven hits and two walks and striking out three. Kohl Stewart retired all four men he faced.
Opposition stars: Logan Forsythe was 2-for-4 with a home run (his fourth) and two runs. Rougned Odor was 2-for-4 with a double. Delino DeShields was 2-for-4 with a double. Shin-Soo Choo was 1-for-5 with a two-run homer, his thirteenth.
The game: The Twins started the scoring in the second and did so in a big way. Garver led off with a double and scored on Gonzalez' single. A double play made it look like the scoring might end right there, but Arraez followed with a home run, Schoop and Buxton hit back-to-back doubles, Kepler singled, and Polanco hit a two-run homer. It was 6-0 and the Twins lead would never be threatened.
The Twins kept the scoring going. Buxton doubled with one out in the fourth and scored on a Kepler single. In the fifth Gonzalez was hit by a pitch and scored on Schoop's two-out two-run homer. It was 9-0 through six.
The Rangers tried to get back into the game in the seventh. Martin Perez, who had cruised through six innings, walked Nomar Mazara to open the seventh. Singles by Forsythe and Asdrubal Cabrera plated one run and Odor's RBI double made it 9-2. Ryne Harper came in and allowed a run-scoring ground out, then with two down gave up a homer to Choo, making the score 9-5.
No problem. Garver led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run. Gonzalez singled, Cron doubled, and Schoop delivered a two-out two-run double to make it 12-5. Forsythe homered in the eighth to cut the margin to 12-6, but the Twins added a few more in the bottom of the eighth. Miguel Sano singled, Garver walked, Gonzalez doubled home one and Cron doubled home two. Texas went down in order in the ninth.
WP: Perez (8-3). LP: Adrian Sampson (6-6). S: None.
Notes: Arraez was at third base in this game, with Gonzalez in left and Sano on the bench. Sano entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the fourth, as Nelson Cruz left the game. According to news reports, Cruz had discomfort in his foot because his shoe was too tight. I don't know why he couldn't simply put on a bigger shoe, but it obviously didn't matter for the outcome of the game.
Arraez actually lowered his average by going 2-for-5--he's now batting .413. Polanco went up to .314. Tyler Duffey gave up a run in two-thirds of an inning and has an ERA of 2.60.
As noted above, Perez pitched very well for six innings. In retrospect you can say he was left in the game too long, but his pitch count wasn't high and there were no obvious signs that he was tiring. Sometimes a guy just loses it quickly.
Stewart pitched the last 1.1 innings. It had been widely assumed that he was going to be Sunday's starter, but that seems very unlikely now. Maybe that never was the plan, or maybe Rocco thought it was better to save the rest of the bullpen now and figure something else out for Sunday. The pitcher who started in Rochester Tuesday, and so would be going on regular rest Sunday, was Devin Smeltzer. He did pretty well in his two earlier major league starts, so it would not be surprising to see him back for the Sunday start.
This was the kind of game we saw a lot the first couple of months of the season and haven't seen much lately. Will this be the start of a hot streak? The Twins had a game like this Saturday and we hoped it might be the start of a hot streak, but instead it was just a one-off. So I guess we'll see.
The win guarantees that the Twins will go into the all-star break not having more than a two-game losing streak. That's pretty remarkable.
Record: The Twins are 55-32, first in the American League Central, 6.5 games ahead of Cleveland.
Projected record: We're still on track for 130-32!
MINNESOTA 4, OAKLAND 3 IN OAKLAND (12 INNINGS)
Date: Wednesday, July 3.
Batting stars: Luis Arraez was 3-for-5. Mitch Garver was 2-for-6. Jorge Polanco was 1-for-5 with a home run, his twelfth.
Pitching stars: Kyle Gibson pitched six innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on five hits and four walks and striking out five. Zack Littell pitched a scoreless inning, giving up a hit and a walk and striking out one. Ryne Harper struck out two in a scoreless inning, giving up one hit. Tyler Duffey pitched a perfect inning. Blake Parker struck out three in two shutout innings, giving up a hit and two walks. Taylor Rogers struck out two in a scoreless inning, giving up one hit.
Opposition stars: Mike Fiers pitched six innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on five hits and no walks and striking out four. Ramon Laureano was 2-for-4 with a three-run homer (his fourteenth) and a walk. Robbie Grossman was 2-for-4 with a walk. Liam Hendriks struck out two in two shutout innings, giving up one hit.
The game: Khris Davis reached on an error to start the bottom of the second. Mark Canha walked and Laureano hit a three-run homer, and that quickly the Athletics led 3-0. Oakland had chances to add to their lead, but could not take advantage of them. Marcus Semien opened the third with a double but did not score. Laureano and Grossman led off the fourth with singles but a force out and a double play ended the inning. Still, the Athletics led 3-0 through five.
The Twins then pecked away, as Dazzle likes to say. Singles by Jonathan Schoop, Max Kepler, and Garver produced a run in the sixth. Singles by Arraez and Ehire Adrianza were followed by an error to make the score 3-2. Polanco hit a two-out homer in the eighth to tie it 3-3.
Each team missed chances in the extra frames. Oakland started the tenth with two walks but did not score. The Twins had men on first and third with one out in the eleventh and did not score. The Twins broke through in the twelfth, though. Byron Buxton and Kepler drew one-out walks and Garver followed with an RBI single to give the Twins their first lead at 4-3. A double play took them out of the inning. Would the lead hold up?
Obviously it did, but the Athletics made it interesting. Matt Chapman reached on an error to start the inning. With one out, Jurickson Profar singled, sending Chapman to third, but Profar was thrown out trying to make second, so there were two down with the tying run ninety feet away. He stayed there, as Canha struck out to end the game.
WP: Parker (1-2). LP: Blake Treinen (2-3). S: Rogers (11).
Notes: Arraez is now batting .431 in sixty-five at-bats. I wonder what the record is for highest batting average in your first sixty-five at-bats. Polanco is down to .318. Harper has an ERA of 2.88. Duffey is at 2.33. Rogers' ERA is 1.93.
Arraez was in left field, and while I still don't like playing infielders in the outfield I gather he's done okay there. Of course, you'll put up with less defense from a guy who bats .431. Adrianza was at shortstop, with Polanco the DH and Nelson Cruz out of the lineup.
In the second inning, I don't think many people would've predicted that Gibson would get through six without giving up any more runs. He didn't exactly dominate, but he got by. The Much Maligned Bullpen came through with six shutout innings, although they didn't exactly dominate, either. The Oaklands went 1-for-15 with men in scoring position.
I am pleased to see Liam Hendriks pitching well. I still feel like the Twins didn't give him much of a chance, although I have to admit that he didn't do much with the chances they did give him. When the Twins waived him after the 2013 season, I doubt that anyone in the front office thought he'd still be pitching in 2019, but here he is. Good for him.
The Twins made two more errors last night. I don't have time to go back and count, but they've made an awful lot of errors in recent weeks. I don't know what happened to that excellent defensive team we had the first couple of months of the season, but I sure wish they'd come back. Injuries have played a part, of course, but that's not a complete excuse.
The Twins still managed to avoid losing three games in a row. Of course, it's been about three weeks since they won three in a row. It would sure be nice to see them put together a little winning streak here before the all-star break.
Record: The Twins are 54-31, first in the American League Central, seven games ahead of Cleveland.
Projected record: We're still on track for 131-31!