The Twins entered their weekend series in Cleveland having seen the Indians cut their lead in the American League Central from 11.5 to 5.5 games in just over a month. This was in part because Cleveland had won six in a row before the All-Star break.
As much as many in baseball hate to see regular-season games broken down individually, or have too much emphasis placed on a series in mid-July, the feeling was the Twins had an opportunity to show they were still in control of the division during these three games.
That’s what Rocco Baldelli’s club accomplished by winning the first two games before losing 4-3 on Sunday. The Twins (58-34) departed Cleveland — they will be off Monday before beginning a nine-game homestand on Tuesday — with a 6.5-game lead on the Indians and a Major League-best 30 victories on the road.
“I think we had a very nice series,” Baldelli said. “I think we can point to a lot of guys that came up very big for us. We had a lot of guys make plays, just play well in general. Pitch well, bullpen, some starting pitching, guys having good at-bats. It was a good series against a very good team and if we play like this going forward I think we’re going to be OK.”
One hallmark of this Twins team has been its resilience since day one. That was on display again Friday as starter Kyle Gibson lasted only 3.2 innings and the Twins trailed 3-1 before rallying with three runs in the seventh and another in the eighth. The Twins nearly rallied again on Sunday by tying the score 3-3 in the seventh. Carlos Santana’s home run off an 0-2 pitch from reliever Trevor May in the eighth won it for the Indians.
Here are a few Tidbits from the series.
WHAT A RELIEF
The Twins reportedly continue to look at potential trades to improve their starting pitching and bullpen as the July 31 deadline approaches, but until Santana jumped on May’s curveball the Twins’ relievers had put together an excellent weekend of work.
The main star — and the guy who probably should have been in Cleveland last week for the All-Star game — was lefthander Taylor Rogers. Rogers gave up a hit and struck out three in earning a two-inning save (his 13th of the season) in the Twins’ 5-3 victory on Friday. He then came back on Saturday and pitched the final inning, striking out one, in a 6-2 victory. Rogers didn’t earn a save, since the Twins’ lead was four runs, but he did lower his ERA to 1.69.
The bullpen was called up on earlier than expected Friday when Gibson was plagued by command issues in the fourth inning. May, Zack Littell (who got the victory), Ryne Harper and Rogers gave up a combined two hits, with a walk and seven strikeouts in 5.1 innings.
“They were all doing exactly what they wanted to do,” Baldelli told reporters after Friday’s game. “They were throwing the ball great. They kept us in the game. Our offense scored the runs, but ultimately, our bullpen won the game for us, I think.”
Four relievers — Harper, Tyler Duffey, Blake Parker and Rogers — combined to give up one run and two hits with no walks and four strikeouts after starter Jake Odorizzi departed on Saturday. He gave up one run in 5.1 innings.
The bullpen ended up working 12 innings in the three games and surrendered two runs and five hits with one walk and 12 strikeouts.
CONCERN ABOUT KYLE?
Gibson gave up three runs, one earned, with four hits, a walk and five strikeouts before being removed. The fact that Gibson had command issues has to be considered a concern, considering the 6-foot-6 righthander admitted he was having some issues with his mechanics after pitching the first inning last Sunday against Texas as the Twins’ opener.
“I think there was some similarities to some of the mechanical frustrations I was having in Oakland and just missing with some pitches up and way, arm side,” Gibson said at the time. Gibson walked five in six innings on July 3 in Oakland.
After giving up no runs and two hits in eight innings of a June 14 victory at Kansas City, Gibson was 7-3 with a 3.70 ERA. He did not walk a batter that day against the Royals and struck out six. Gibson is 1-1 with a 5.09 ERA in six games (five starts) since then.
A POWER MOVE
There was a little doubt that outfielder Max Kepler needed the All-Star break in order to rest a sore knee that has given him problems since he crashed into the wall in Anaheim in May. Not surprisingly, the rest did Kepler some good.
On Friday, he went 1-for-5 but that one hit came on a key seventh-inning single on which Kepler was initially called out at first base after a grounder to the right side of the infield with runners on first and third. Kepler signaled he was safe after he crossed first base — believing he had beaten the throw from Francisco Lindor — and a replay review proved he was right. The infield single made it 3-2 and two pitches later Jorge Polanco drove the ball over the head of Cleveland center fielder Oscar Mercado for a two-run double to give the Twins the lead.
Kepler was only getting started.
On Saturday, he homered off Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer to open the game and then homered again against Bauer in the second inning. This came after Kepler hit three home runs and drew a walk off Bauer in their last meeting on June 6. Bauer finally did get Kepler on a strikeout in the fourth inning Saturday.
According to Elias Sports Bureau (hat tip to MLB Twins writer Do-Hyoung Park), Kepler’s homers in five consecutive at-bats against Bauer matched the longest streak by any batter off a single pitcher in the Expansion Era (since 1961). Carlos Delgado hit five in a row against Jorge Sosa from 2003 to ’04, while Frank Howard also accomplished the feat against Bob Hendley from 1963 to ’64.
That makes Kepler the only player to hit all five consecutive home runs in a single season.
Credit to Bauer for having some fun at his own expense on Twitter.
It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. I think. Maybe. pic.twitter.com/Y94Ni2cpDp
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) July 14, 2019