MINNEAPOLIS — Sunday’s ho-hum victory against the Oakland Athletics capped your average, everyday, run-of-the-mill 4-game series split for the Twins.
Or something like that.
In an absolute battle of a series, two teams with postseason aspirations wrestled and scratched for wins in what felt like just one half-step down for October intensity. The A’s were hot, the Twins were scuffling a bit, and the Indians are rapidly closing the gap at the top of the American League Central.
Sunday’s walk-off winner — courtesy of Max Kepler and set up by Ehire Adrianza’s RBI triple — gave the Twins their 60th victory on the season. And it allowed the club to let out the good kind of scream over an emotional release before the Yankees land in Minneapolis for a 3-game set at Target Field. That should be fun.
One pitcher called Sunday’s victory “one of the most important” of the year. Another player called it a crucial victory, “emotionally” for the club. And one said that Monday takes on a completely different feeling than if the Twins had dropped Sunday’s game.
You can say that again.
Liam Hendriks coughed up the lead in the 9th inning after looking untouchable against the Twins the rest of the series. Adrianza’s triple plated the first run against the former Twin, Hendriks, in 20 2/3 innings. Max Kepler delivered the final blow, with an RBI single to score Adrianza and end the game, earning the Twins a hard-fought split ahead of the dance with the Yankees.
The Twins have a pivotal home series with the New York Yankees this week at Target Field. Sure, it’s just 3 games out of 162, but this one feels bigger than that, doesn’t it?
The Twins used J.O. Berríos and Michael Pineda on Saturday and Sunday against the A’s. Keeping every starter in line means they’ll open the series with lefty Martín Pérez, followed by Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi.
The Yankees will counter with lefty C.C. Sabathia, Domingo Germán and lefty J.A. Happ.
Monday: LHP Martín Pérez vs. LHP C.C. Sabathia
Tuesday: RHP Kyle Gibson vs. RHP Domingo Germán
Wednesday: RHP Jake Odorizzi vs. LHP J.A. Happ
Based on recent outings, the best matchup could be Tuesday’s.
And it’s important to underline that the Twins are one of the best offenses in baseball when it comes to beating up left-handed pitching.
Byron Buxton was eligible to return from the 7-day concussion list on Sunday, but that didn’t happen. The speedy centerfielder went through a pregame workout and the team reported that we got through it feeling fine. Those drills included outfield work, baserunning, and batting practice on the field, the team said.
Buxton’s been out since last Saturday, when he raced in to make a highlight-reel catch, and then his momentum caused his head to hit the ground hard after his dive to catch the ball.
On one hand, Buxton was hitting just .143/.250/.262 in the dozen games he played from June 13 to July 13, the day his head hit the ground forcing his latest absence. On the other hand, it’s incredibly noticeable when he’s not in the lineup, and his Gold Glove-caliber fielding is a game-changer for the Twins.
Much has been made of the lull in Minnesota’s winning ways over the past month or more. A lot of the angst centers on the bullpen, and some — I believe unfairly — has fallen at the feet of the starting pitchers. The big difference between the Twins playing like the best team in baseball and the Twins playing like a .500 club lately is the bats.
When’s the last time the Twins’ offense blew the doors off a team and won a series going away? It was probably the Rangers series just after the 4th of July, when the Twins scored 15 runs and 7 runs to win the first two games of the series, before plating just one runner in a loss immediately before the all-star break. It just really stood out in late-May when the Twins played pick-your-score against the Chicago White Sox, winning 11-4, 8-1 and 7-0 during a 3-game sweep on the road.
“None of our guys out in the clubhouse make any excuses [for injuries],” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I can speak for them in some ways and say that it’s certainly a factor [injuries]; we had a pretty good run of staying healthy and being really productive. … I think our guys are starting to feel it offensively, and the last week or so I thought our guys have been swinging the bats pretty well.”
“I don’t know the averages, I just know what I was watching early on [this season] was extremely impressive. This is still impressive, what we’ve been doing — it’s just what we were doing early was next-level stuff that you don’t really see very often,” Baldelli said.