MINNEAPOLIS — Judging from the mood in the Twins’ clubhouse and manager Rocco Baldelli’s office Saturday afternoon, you would have never guessed a team that had held sole possession of first place in its division since April 27, and increased that lead to 11.5 games by early June, now found itself in a tie with Cleveland atop the AL Central.
There was no sense of unrest among the players. And Baldelli, in his first season as a big-league skipper and still only 37 years old, continued to serve in his role of a baseball “Zen master.” That was impressive considering the Twins’ starting pitching had come unglued during a season-high four-game losing streak that saw Minnesota fall behind 11-0, 7-0, 4-0 and 6-0 in back-to-back losses to Atlanta and Cleveland, respectively, at Target Field.
“I think normally the answer to that would be not reacting and just staying consistent with whatever your messages are, whatever the energy is, whatever your routine is, just continually believing in what you’ve been preaching all year long,” Baldelli said when asked about his approach. “We’re not a group that has a ton of team meetings or getting everyone together. Usually it’s for very positive things and accomplishments for our players and things like that.
“Changing your routine, or changing the way that you interact with your group, is probably more of a red flag than anything else. Just kind of rolling with what you’ve been doing and what has gotten you this far is generally the right answer. There are always one off situations throughout a long year that maybe would call for something. But as of right now, I don’t see anything to address.”
On one hand, Baldelli’s attempt to keep himself and his team in the eye of the storm is impressive — especially as the team’s fan base melts down around them — but on the other you have to wonder how Baldelli is dealing with the urgency of the situation behind the scenes?
Byron Buxton is out because of a left shoulder injury and it’s unknown when the best defensive center fielder in the big leagues, not to mention a nightmare on the bases, will return. Starter Michael Pineda and reliever Sam Dyson, one of the Twins’ key pickups at the trade deadline, also are on the injured list. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who has an incredible 16 home runs since the All-Star break, was put on the IL on Friday because of a ruptured tendon in his left wrist and will get a second opinion from a specialist on Monday.
The Twins entered Saturday’s rain-delayed game having seen their past four starters (Jose Berrios, Martin Perez, Kyle Gibson and Devin Smeltzer) post an 11.51 ERA and give up 31 hits and 15 walks in 20.1 innings. The Indians didn’t need that type of help from Gibson and Smeltzer considering they were 41-16 since June 4.
So on Saturday, the Twins sent righthander Jake Odorizzi to the mound against Indians righty Adam Plutko attempting to retake the AL Central lead and restore some confidence for a team that had been outscored 13-7 in the opening two games of this four-game series.
Odorizzi was far from perfect but he also did far better than any Twins starter since, well, himself. The Twins, who had gone 39 innings without taking a lead dating to Monday, broke that streak in the bottom of fourth inning Saturday as Luis Arraez tripled in a run in the fourth inning and C.J. Cron delivered an RBI single in the next at-bat to give the Twins a 2-0 lead en route to a 4-1 victory.
Odorizzi didn’t have a 1-2-3 inning and he gave up six hits and four walks, along with striking out six, over 5.2 innings, but he also did not surrender a run as Cleveland left 10 runners on base (seven in scoring position) during his time on the mound. The Twins set a defensive tone in the second inning when Ehire Adrianza, starting in place of Jorge Polanco at shortstop, made a diving play to knock down Tyler Naquin’s infield single and stop Greg Allen from scoring.
The last time the Twins got a solid start came last Monday as Odorizzi gave up one run and five hits with three walks and seven strikeouts in six innings of a game that Miguel Sano ended in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off home run. It was little surprise that when Baldelli came out to remove Odorizzi the pitcher received a standing ovation from many in the crowd of 35,268 at Target Field.
That gets us back to how Baldelli is dealing with the pressure he has felt in recent days. Because Baldelli is never going to tell you these things, you can only tell by his actions. His actions on Saturday night included bringing in reliever Sergio Romo with two outs in the sixth and then having Taylor Rogers close things out with a two-inning save.
Baldelli wasn’t going to leave this one up to anyone other than his most trusted bullpen arms. Especially since they were rested, given how bad the starters had been of late. The Twins will now give the ball back to Berrios on Sunday to try and split the series with the Indians and get their division lead back to two.
Berrios, the Twins’ top starter, was remarkably bad his last time out, giving up a career-high nine runs over 5.2 innings in a 12-7 loss to Atlanta. That caused his ERA to jump 0.44 points. If Berrios can provide the type of start that Odorizzi did Saturday, a tough homestand won’t feel quite as disappointing.
“That’s what I try to always pride myself on, be the guy that stops it,” Odorizzi said of bringing an end to the Twins’ skid. “Somebody’s got to apply the tourniquet at some point, might as well be me. I kind of pride myself on that. The tourniquet thing is a good analogy, not just for in here where we’re pretty confident, but for the city in general that’s in panic mode right now: Everything is going to be fine. That’s how we take it in here. There’s a lot of talk of, the lead is what it is, we lost it. We also started the year off, we were even with Cleveland and we got to a point where we were up. It’s the same as Opening Day all over again. We got there one time, might as well continue to do it again.”