MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins returned to Target Field a week ago having lost five in a row and hoping to receive inspiration from playing in front of the familiar cardboard cutouts at their downtown ballpark.
It didn’t work as planned. At least for one night. The Twins lost 8-5 to the White Sox in the opener of the three-game series, but manager Rocco Baldelli’s team rebounded nicely to take two of three from Chicago and then four of five from the Tigers, including both games of a doubleheader on Friday. The Twins (26-17) closed the home stand with a 6-2 victory on a rainy Monday afternoon.
Here are eight observations from the eight games, which included one in which the Tigers were the home team (the second game of Friday’s doubleheader) because it was a makeup of a game that had been rained out in Detroit.
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) September 7, 2020
- Michael Pineda has provided the Twins’ starting rotation with a big boost in his first two outings since returning from his 60-game suspension handed down by MLB. Pineda gave up two runs, three hits, with two walks and eight strikeouts as he threw 104 pitches on Monday. That followed his first start last Tuesday when the righthander gave up two runs and six hits with a walk and four strikeouts as he went six innings and threw 81 pitches. Big Mike, as the Twins call him, has put in solid position to be near the top of the Twins’ playoff rotation at this point.
- Baldelli is about as laid-back of guy as you will meet and that is reflected in the Twins’ day-to-day approach. That’s why it was noteworthy after last Monday’s loss when Baldelli closed the clubhouse — now that media isn’t allowed in, I’m not sure how many people even go in after games — and addressed a team that had lost its last two in Cleveland and three in Detroit before the White Sox beat them. Baldelli, whose longest losing streaks as the Twins’ manager in 2019 had been a pair of four-game setbacks, declined to reveal details of the conversation but whatever was said the Twins won their next five.
- Center fielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Josh Donaldson were in the lineup on Monday but it’s clear the Twins are going to be cautious with them in what remains of the regular season. Buxton (left shoulder inflammation) returned from the injured list on Tuesday and started three of the remaining six games. He also came in as a defensive replacement in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader. Donaldson (right calf strain) returned from the IL on Wednesday and started three of the remaining five games. He homered in his first at-bat on Friday after Jorge Polanco opened the bottom half of the first with a homer. That gave the Twins a lead in what became a 2-0 victory.
- If fans were allowed into Target Field, Buxton made two plays that would have been worth the price of admission. The first came on Tuesday, in his first game back, when the center fielder ranged into left field and robbed Edwin Encarnacion of a sixth-inning home run by leaping and reaching into the flowerpots beyond the wall. Buxton also drove in the winning run with an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh in a 3-2 victory. Buxton provided the highlight of the home stand on Saturday night by beating out a grounder to short in the bottom of the ninth that enabled Nelson Cruz to score the winning run with two outs. Tigers shortstop Willi Castro did nothing wrong on the play, other than be unlucky enough to have a speedster hit it at him. There have been plenty of walk-off home runs in baseball, there haven’t been too many routine grounders to short that end up being the walk-off hit. To cap things off, Buxton hit a come-back shot off Daniel Norris on Monday that the Tigers pitcher deflected into left field. Buxton had an easy single but he did not break stride and turned the hit into a double. In his next at-bat, Buxton belted a 416-foot solo home run into the second deck in left field.
- You have to wonder when we will next see Cruz? The designated hitter did not play in the past two games because of hip soreness that he initially attempted to play through. The hope is that the 40-year-old can return on Tuesday in St. Louis, but it wouldn’t be wise to put a lot of money on it, given how cautious the Twins are with injured players.
- The Twins’ lineup on Monday was the latest indication that if you want to see Baldelli show any urgency when it comes to his game management in 2020, you’ll have to wait until the postseason. The entire right side of the infield, along with shortstop Jorge Polanco, was held out the day after the Twins’ winning streak was broken. Sano had experienced mild hamstring soreness on Sunday and was replaced at first base by LaMonte Wade Jr., who was making only his second career start at the position. Second baseman Luis Arraez has been battling a knee issue since the season began, so he did not play on back-to-back days. Marwin Gonzalez started at second and Ehire Adrianza was at shortstop, with Brent Rooker serving as the DH in place of Cruz. Wade made a nice scoop of a low throw by Donaldson in the eighth inning to get Jonathan Schoop.
- Sano had a Sano-like series against the Tigers. He struck out in six of his first eight at-bats over the opening two-plus games. After striking out in the second inning on Saturday, he singled to right, crushed a home run to left and singled again to end the night 3-for-4. Sano came back Sunday and went 0-for-3 with two walks and two strikeouts.
- The Twins led 6-2 after five innings Sunday before the Tigers rallied for a 10-8 victory. The surprising thing about the loss was how the Twins’ top-end bullpen guys struggled. Trevor May gave up three runs and four hits (one a home run) in two-thirds of an inning and now has given up seven runs and 10 hits (three home runs) in 4.2 innings over his past five games. Tyler Duffey gave up two runs (one earned) and three hits and struck out three in 1.1 innings. Duffey’s 33 pitches were a season high. Sergio Romo took the loss, giving up the go-ahead homer to Grayson Greiner in the eighth. The Twins did get some help in the bullpen on Monday when Cody Stashak (lower back inflammation) returned from the injured list. Stashak had missed 23 games.