KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The cleanup spot is traditionally a slugger’s position, and the Twins’ lineup tonight in Kansas City absolutely fits that alignment, right? Minnesota’s leader in slugging percentage, Miguel Sano, is batting third, and the guy right behind him, “who can give Miggy a little protection, hopefully,” according to manager Paul Molitor, ranks third on the team in slugging.
So what if Eduardo Escobar is roughly half Sano’s size?
“Playing all four left-handers tonight, and with Robbie [Grossman] not playing, I had to try to find a little bit different look,” Molitor said of his 67th different batting order of the season, and the first to slot Escobar fourth. The first ever, at any level, to make the switch-hitting infielder a cleanup hitter.
But it’s not as crazy as it sounds, Molitor said. “Esco’s been doing fine. He’s had a really nice first half and has picked up his opportunity to play significantly in the last month,” Molitor said. “We’ll see how Esco responds. Hopefully, he makes it memorable.”
The unusual lineup is a reflection of the unusual pitcher the Twins will face tonight. Jason Vargas, who at 11-3 with a 2.29 ERA is having a spectacular All-Star season, is a lefthander who doesn’t throw hard, and relies on changeups and breaking pitches. What’s really rare, though, is his backwards splits: Left-handers are batting .329 against him this season, with an .849 OPS — but righthanders flail away, batting .226 with a .604 OPS.
Molitor was particularly worried about Sano and Byron Buxton against Vargas, so he loaded up on lefties tonight. “As a whole, especially our right-handed side, we’re not a very good left-handed changeup-hitting team. Byron and Miguel and some of our guys, they’ve just always had a tough time picking up that pitch,” Molitor said. The Twins can prepare for a pitcher like Vargas, but “you still get deceived — you see a pitch you think you can do some damage with, and you roll it over or you miss it. It’s just what good pitches can cause you to do.”
The Twins’ pitcher isn’t bad, either — Ervin Santana faces his former team, following a big performance in Cleveland last Sunday. Molitor is looking for another strong start from Santana, which could have an effect tomorrow, too. “I might have a tendency to have a little longer rope” for Santana tonight, Molitor said. “It’s one of those nights where we could really use a good start, with the doubleheader looming [Saturday] and no breaks until a week from Sunday.”
Here are the lineups for tonight’s first game of a four-games-in-45-hours series in Kauffman Stadium:
E. Escobar DH
A. Escobar SS