MINNESOTA 12, KANSAS CITY 8 IN MINNESOTA
Date: Sunday, September 22.
Batting stars: Eddie Rosario was 3-for-4 with three doubles, a walk, and three RBIs. Nelson Cruz was 2-for-3 with a home run (his fortieth), two walks, and four runs. Miguel Sano was 2-for-4 with two home runs (his thirty-second and thirty-third), a walk, and four RBIs. Jorge Polanco was 2-for-4 with a double, a walk, and three runs. Marwin Gonzalez was 2-for-4 with a walk and three RBIs.
Pitching stars: Tyler Duffey struck out the side in a perfect inning. Trevor May pitched a scoreless inning, giving up a hit and a walk and striking out one. Cody Stashak struck out two in a scoreless inning, giving up one hit. Brusdar Graterol struck out the side in a perfect inning.
Opposition stars: Whit Merrifield was 3-for-4 with a stolen base, his nineteenth. Nicky Lopez was 2-for-3 with two doubles, a walk, and two runs.
The game: The Royals started the game with singles by Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi, then immediately pulled off a double steal to put men on second and third with none out. They did not score, however, as the next three batters failed to get the ball out of the infield.
The Twins responded with a big bottom of the first. With one out, Polanco and Cruz singled and Rosario followed with an RBI double. With two out, Gonzalez singled home a run and Sano came through with a three-run homer. It did not kill the rally, as Jake Cave walked and LaMonte Wade and Luis Arraez singled. It was a 6-0 Twins lead, and they then cruised to an easy victory.
Well, not quite. Nick Dini hit a two-run homer in the second to cut the lead to 6-2. In the third, Lopez and Jorge Soler hit back-to-back doubles, Hunter Dozier singled, a ground out scored a run, and Cheslor Cuthbert had an RBI single, cutting the margin to 6-5. Sano homered in the bottom of the third to make it 7-5, but Lopez had an RBI double in the fourth to again cut the lead to one at 7-6. Cruz hit a home run in the bottom of the fourth to put the difference back up to two at 8-6.
Things settled down a bit for a little while. There was no more scoring until the sixth. Polanco doubled, Cruz was intentionally walked, Rosario had an RBI double, and Gonzalez drove in a run with a single to make it 10-6. They added two more in the seventh. With two out, Polanco and Cruz walked, Rosario had another RBI double, and Jason Castro and Gonzalez walked, giving the Twins a 12-6 advantage. The Twins remained in control of the game the rest of the way.
No, not really. They should have. Fernando Romero came in to pitch the ninth with a six run lead. No one needed their bats against him, as he went strikeout, walk, walk, strikeout, walk. With the bases loaded and two down, Rocco had seen enough and brought in Sergio Romo. He immediately walked two men, making the score 12-8 and bringing the tying run to the plate. Finally, however, he struck out Alex Gordon and the victory went to the Twins.
WP: Zack Littell (6-0). LP: Jorge Lopez (4-9). S: None.
Notes: LaMonte Wade was in center in the continuing absence of Byron Buxton. Jake Cave was in right in the absence of Max Kepler. Marwin Gonzalez was at first base in the continuing absence of C. J. Cron. Mitch Garver started the game at catcher, but was removed in the fifth due to "right hip tightness". I have no information on how serious it is.
Luis Arraez was 1-for-6 and is batting .343. Cruz is batting .303. His home run, as I'm sure you know, was the four hundredth of his career.
Zack Littell has an ERA of 2.83. Tyler Duffey is at 2.26.
Remember when Miguel Sano was a total bust, and the Twins should either send him to Rochester or just DFA him?
I seem to hear from a lot of Twins fans who aren't really enjoying this run for the division title. They keep saying, "But with our pitching, we won't do anything in the playoffs." I actually agree with that assessment, although with the caveat that it's baseball and you never know. But even so, that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the success we're having in the regular season.
I think part of the problem is that a lot of fans have no confidence in the Twins' ability to take the next step next year. They don't see this as a division title this year, maybe a deep playoff run the next year, then a world championship. Their fear is that this is a one-off, and next year we'll be back to mediocrity. I understand that. We've never really seen a Twins team that was able to take that next step. The division championships in the first decade of the 2000s were accompanied by post-season futility. The two world championships were not the culmination of a steady building phase--they came from bad teams becoming good in a single bound, and then dropping back to mediocrity or worse within a couple of years. We have no experience with a Twins team going from good to better to best.
I think there are reasons to think this Twins team could, though. The biggest one is the number of young players who are having success this season. Front and center, of course, is Arraez, who is batting .343 with an OPS of .851. But look at the pitchers:
Littell, 2.83 ERA, 1.23 WHIP.
Cody Stashak, 3.13 ERA, 1.22 WHIP.
Randy Dobnak, 2.01 ERA, 1.39 WHIP.
Brusdar Graterol, 4.32 ERA, 1.20 WHIP.
Granted, we're dealing with some small sample sizes, but these guys have all been put into games in important situations and have, for the most part, come through. There's every reason to think they are legitimate big leaguers, and that there are more coming.
I don't remember the last time the Twins brought up this many young players and had them perform well. Part of the reason for that is that, before this year, they would not have been given the chance. Arraez would never have been brought up with so little AAA experience--they'd have found a veteran middle infielder to fill in. And if injuries had forced them to bring Arraez up for a week or two, he'd have been sent back as soon as the veterans got healthy. It would've been "Nice job, kid. Now go back to AAA and prove you belong here." On the pitching staff, we'd still be bumbling along with people like Matt Magill, Blake Parker, and Mike Morin, because "They've been around. They know how to pitch." Current management should be given credit not just for their role in developing these players, but for actually giving them the chance to play. There are never guarantees, but it gives me a lot of hope that this year is not just a one-off, but is instead building toward something even better in years to come.
Record: The Twins are 96-60, in first place in the American League Central, four games ahead of Cleveland. Their magic number is three.
Projected record: We're still on track for 102-60!