The Twins were missing 127 of their 276 home runs entering Wednesday’s game against Washington at Target Field. That number increased to 142 if you included the absence of veteran utilityman Marwin Gonzalez and 149 if you threw in backup outfielder Jake Cave.
It was the second consecutive game in which manager Rocco Baldelli used a makeshift lineup in large part because of injuries to C.J. Cron (thumb), Miguel Sano (back), Byron Buxton (shoulder), Max Kepler (scapula), Cave (groin) and Gonzalez (oblique). The only healthy scratch on Wednesday was catcher Mitch Garver, who was given the night off a day after belting his 30th homer.
The Twins’ lineup provided the recipe for a 6-2 loss to the Nationals and front-line starter Stephen Strasburg. The defeat dropped the Twins to 2-3 on a homestand that is scheduled to end on a rainy Thursday night and began with Minnesota dropping two of three to Cleveland. The Twins are then scheduled to play the Indians in Cleveland this weekend.
The Twins’ injury situation — and some shaky starting pitching — has caused some angst from the team’s faithful, even after Jose Berrios rebounded from a rough stretch to pitch seven shutout innings on Tuesday in a 5-0 win over the Nationals. The Twins held a four-game lead in the AL Central on the Indians entering play Thursday, with Minnesota having a chance to extend that lead because Cleveland was off.
Don’t get used to this, folks, but I’m here to tell you that there is no reason to be concerned about the Twins. Yes, the Twins are scheduled to face top-line starters in Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber and a third who has the looks of being one as well in Aaron Civale this weekend. This will give Cleveland an excellent chance to cut the Twins lead even more — especially if Baldelli is forced to continue holding regulars out — but it’s what will happen after Sunday that should give everyone complete confidence.
The Twins will transition from playing the Nationals and Indians to wrapping up the season with a 13-game stretch against some of the worst the American League has to offer. A seven-game homestand begins next Monday against the Chicago White Sox and ends with four games against the Royals. Minnesota will finish the regular season with three games in Detroit and three in Kansas City.
The White Sox appear to be a club on the rise but right now they are 64-81 and 25 games behind the Twins. The Royals have won seven of their past 10 but are 54-92 and 35.5 out of first in the AL Central. Detroit? Manager Ron Gardenhire’s club has done the nearly impossible by actually being worse than the Baltimore Orioles, who have spent this season trying to lose. The Tigers are 43-100 and 45 games out in the AL Central.
Put these three together and it’s fair to say the Twins will drop a game or two in this stretch — if Chicago righthander Lucas Giolito is on, for instance — but other than that there is no excuse for the Twins not to finish atop the AL Central.
Cleveland’s final 12 games after the Twins leave town will be against Detroit (three) and Philadelphia (three) and at the White Sox (three) and Washington (three). That means the Indians will have six games against quality opponents, while the Twins will have none.
So let’s stop with the talk of the Twins not winning this division. A failure to do so would be among the biggest collapses we have seen in big-league history. I don’t care who is in the lineup, or who is on the mound, not cruising through those final 13 games would be unfathomable.
If you want to worry about the Twins’ chances in the postseason, I can’t help you. As far as the AL Central title, don’t worry about it. The Royals, Tigers and White Sox have long ago checked out on the 2019 season and that means an AL Central flag will fly at Target Field next spring. If that doesn’t happen, the amount of vitriol and ridicule directed toward the Twins would be well deserved.