MINNEAPOLIS — It’s not that Rocco Baldelli isn’t happy about the success the Twins are having nearly two months into his first season as a major league manager. How could Baldelli not be ecstatic?
An 8-1 win over the Chicago White Sox on Saturday afternoon before a sellout crowd of 39,139 at Target Field improved the Twins’ record to 35-16, the best in the big leagues, and gave them victories in 15 of their past 19 games and 10 of their past 11. The Twins’ lead in the American League Central grew to nine games when Cleveland lost to Tampa Bay on Saturday night.
But it’s clear that if Baldelli was given his choice, the low-key 37-year-old would prefer to see his ballclub spend the summer flying well below the radar. We’ve got some bad news for Rocco. There is no way that is going to happen. The price for this type of success is attention and the spotlight has only started to shine on these Twins.
This might not thrill Baldelli but there are plenty who are going to enjoy the fact the Twins appear as if they will spend the summer dominating the AL Central with an eye on setting themselves up for playoff success.
Included in this group is 31-year-old righthanded pitcher Kyle Gibson, who first arrived in Minnesota in 2013 and has seen plenty of rough times at Target Field. Gibson improved to 5-2 on Saturday by giving up one run and five hits with only one walk and nine strikeouts in seven innings against the overmatched White Sox. Gibson got 21 swinging strikes, the second-most of his career.
Gibson has played on Twins teams that went 66-96 in 2013; 70-92 in 2014; 83-79 in 2015; 59-103 in 2016; 85-77 in 2017; and 78-84 in 2018. That’s four seasons of some bad baseball.
“I think this is probably the best feeling team I’ve been on here,” said Gibson, the longest-tenured Twin. “2015 was a lot of fun, 2017 was a lot of fun, but I don’t think we had the everyday confidence that this team does. And I don’t think that there was the buzz in the crowd and the buzz around the Twin Cities right now.
“The Lynx are about to start playing but we’re pretty much the talk of the town right now and anytime you turn on ESPN Radio, anytime you read something on social media, I think Twins fans are pretty excited about it, as they should be. That type of atmosphere shows up to the park like this and … when we take a 2-0 lead in the second or third, whenever it was, and the Twins fans erupt like that when we score the first runs, it’s almost like they can feel the offense building, and that builds a lot of fun atmosphere to play in.”
The White Sox appear to have a bright future but like many of the Twins’ American League foes, Chicago strikes no fear in the hearts of Minnesota players. It didn’t help matters that the White Sox fielders did their best Keystone Cops routine in the field Saturday.
The Twins’ took a 2-0 lead in the first on C.J. Cron’s double to right in the first inning, added three more in the fourth inning and then added three more in the eighth on shortstop Ehire Adrianza’s three-run homer to right. That was the Twins’ only homer of the afternoon — a surprise given their power displays of late — and their MLB-leading 102nd of the season.
Gibson is right. It has been years since the Twins received this type of respect from fans and media. The team fell short of a playoff berth in 2015, in what was considered a fun season, but nobody ever saw them as a legitimate threat. The run to the AL wild card game in 2017 — and a quick exit against the Yankees in New York — was seen as such a fluke by chief baseball officer Derek Falvey that he and general manager Thad Levine were trading away players at the deadline because they thought their team was out of it.
Now, the Twins are the talk of the local and national media. ESPN’s talking heads are weighing in on if they think the Twins are for real. The Twins’ 11-4 victory on Friday drew 29,638 and it’s likely Saturday’s sellout will be followed by another full house on Sunday. The Twins have become a hot-ticket item.
“It’s awesome,” Cron said. “It’s been fun the last couple of nights for sure. It seems when we do something well they get excited, they cheer for us and we definitely feel it as players. We have a good ballclub. I think there’s reason for them to come out; I think we definitely feed off that. It’s nice that it starts in late May and hopefully we can continue getting that support. I know we appreciate it a lot so it was great.”
Cron knows what it’s like to play on a good team and not have fans show up. He spent last season with the Tampa Bay Rays, who went 90-72 but finished second-to-last in the big leagues in attendance. “I think it’s the best support I’ve seen in my career, the six years I’ve been in the league,” said Cron, who also spent time with the Angels. “It’s a sellout in May and you don’t see that very often. … The louder they get, the more excited and pumped up we get.”
Marwin Gonzalez, who made a key diving catch in right field off a James McCann line drive with runners on first and second in the opening inning, knows plenty about being on successful teams. He spent the past seven years with the Astros and won a World Series in 2017.
Gonzalez said Astros fans didn’t start showing up until they started winning. “I think that’s how it works everywhere,” he said. “I think the way (we are playing) we are giving hope to the people in the city. … It’s more fun to play in front of a lot of people. I love it. I hope we keep winning and they show up every day.”
Along with the big crowds will come more and more attention.
“When we were out there warming up, I was taking a little chance to look around as I was walking out and there were probably 30,000 in the stands, 25-30 minutes before the game,” Gibson said. “When you have that type of atmosphere taking the mound and you hear the buzz in the crowd, that’s something we talk about, and it’s something that we need. When you hear the buzz and you can’t hardly hear yourself think out there when a good thing happens, that’s a whole lot of fun to play behind.”