MINNEAPOLIS — How well are things going for the Minnesota Twins these days?
That answer was provided Sunday when two players battling upper respiratory infections helped carry the team to a three-game sweep of the White Sox that left Chicago’s baseball club looking like the sick ones. Righthander Jake Odorizzi gave up one hit with a walk and nine strikeouts in 5.1 innings, and right fielder Max Kepler added a three-run homer in the seventh to provide the final runs in a 7-0 victory before a second-consecutive sellout crowd (39,913) at Target Field. It was the Twins’ sixth consecutive victory.
“Sometimes you see some of the best performers play at their best when they’re sick,” said Kepler, who returned to the Twins’ lineup Sunday after a day off and went 2-for-4 with four RBIs and two runs. “Michael Jordan, when he was sick in that playoff game. …I don’t know what it is. Maybe just calmer. I don’t know.”
So Max, are you comparing yourself to Michael Jordan? Ask this question in a normal season and a reporter might get a nasty glare. But in this feel-good season, Kepler just laughed. “No, no, no,” he said. “I did not say that.”
Now, comparing the Twins to the ’27 Yankees? That might be fair game.
Monday is Memorial Day and the Twins already have a 10-game lead on the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central and are sitting a remarkable 20 games over .500. Their 36-16 record is the best in the big leagues and the most games they have been over .500 since finishing 26 games north of that mark in 2010.
Want more? Sunday marked the Twins’ seventh sweep of the season, matching their entire total from 2018, was their 19th win in May, their most in a month since going 20-10 in August 2017, and they have won 16 of their past 20 games overall and 11 of their past 12.
Want even more? Twins’ pitchers tossed a shutout for the sixth time this season and the fourth time at Target Field. Entering Sunday, only Cincinnati (seven) and the Cubs (six) had at least six shutouts this season.
How about one more? In outscoring the White Sox 26-5 in the series, the Twins hit .283 an averaged 8.7 runs in the three games.
In other words, this has become ridiculous. The good news is if you’re a Twins fan, it has become ridiculously fun. That was apparent during the three-game series that drew 108,690, making it their best attendance mark over a three-game set since July 24-26, 2015 against the Yankees.
“It’s a good start to a long season,” Kepler said. “But I think all of us in here are just trying to stay in the present, work on our day-to-day tasks and not get too ahead of ourselves. It’s definitely a great start out of the gate.”
Odorizzi continued his fantastic start by improving to 7-2 and lowering his earned-run average to 2.16. It seemed odd when manager Rocco Baldelli bolted from the dugout and signaled for a pitching change in the top of the sixth inning after Odorizzi struck out No. 9 hitter Ryan Cordell. On a day in which his fastball was working, that gave Odorizzi four consecutive strikeouts and six swinging strikeouts in the past eight hitters.
Odorizzi was about to go through the White Sox order for the third time — opponents were hitting .300 against him the third-time through after hitting .179 and .153 the first two times — but the decision was far more influenced by the fact Odorizzi was under the weather. Relievers Matt Magill, Trevor May, Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey gave up no runs and four hits as they combined to finish the shutout.
“Physically, I felt really, really well,” Odorizzi said. “That’s always a good thing. It just kind of caught up with me in about the fourth inning on, getting the breathing going and my throat has a little mucus, that sort of thing. I was having trouble just getting a deep breath and then felt like I was choking afterwards because of all the drainage going on.
“It’s been like this for a few days, so I think I’m on the (downhill) part of it. Physically, it was a good day. I tried to stay out there for the last part of the sixth. … I’m happy with it. (Catcher Jason Castro) and I were just kind of taking the game as it came to us and really didn’t set too many pregame expectations.”
Expectations? When it comes to the Twins these days, the expectations have become easy. Their starter is going to give them a solid performance and the offense is going to provide plenty of support, mainly via the home run. Eddie Rosario hit his team-leading 16th homer, a three-run shot, in the third inning.
The homers were nice but the most fun might have been provided by third baseman Willians Astudillo in the seventh inning. The fun started when La Tortuga (The Turtle) went from first to third on a single to left by Castro. There is no good way to describe the slow-footed Astudillo’s decision to take the extra base, so here it is.
LA TORTUGAAAAAAAAAAA pic.twitter.com/jx2nqDYpZS
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) May 26, 2019
The technique! pic.twitter.com/8I9sWGeIgQ
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) May 26, 2019
“I’m not surprised that it excited the people,” Baldelli said. “I know what the people come here to see, and they come here to see Rosie and Kep hit home runs, and they come here to see Willians take extra bases. That’s what they’re waiting for more than anything else, I know that.”
The fact that Astudillo then found himself in a run down when he broke for home on Byron Buxton’s ground ball to third base was even better. At one point, Astudillo took off his helmet and threw it aside, as if it was slowing him down.
Astudillo being tagged out bothered the Twins so much that Kepler came up and homered to center. “I said before spring training started, I looked at the lineup, looked at the pitchers and I knew this team would do damage,” Kepler said. “Like I said, everyone has to stay in their right mental place, and just stay healthy. All of them have the ability to do great stuff. If you come together like they have been…it’s only forward from here.”
That’s a thought that is likely to make Twins’ opponents feel sick.