The Twins were swept in four games in Toronto and this left them at 54-54 on Aug. 6 , with precisely one-third of the schedule remaining. Last rites were performed, and sports bars in the Twin Cities turned their TVs to exhibition football games — even if they did not involve the Vikings.
Paul Molitor’s first club looked fully prepared to continue its fall from contention for the American League’s second wild card.
The Twins were three games behind at the time. Staying at .500 was going to be futile. The pace was going to be picked up for teams wanting that wild card, and how were the Twins going to be among those playing better in the final one-third of the season?
On Wednesday, the Twins beat Cleveland 4-2 for a third consecutive victory. This put them at 78-73 and one game behind Houston for the second wild card.
That also means the Twins are 24-19 since they were buried in Ontario. How has this flawed outfit regained life since Aug. 6? Here are my top five reasons:
• Tyler Duffey was summoned from Class AAA to make his first big-league start in Toronto on Aug. 5. He could not have looked more terrified. He lasted two innings, allowing six runs and two homers.
The Twins sent Duffey back to Rochester, not to be seen until September, presumably.
Phil Hughes came down with a bad back. All we critics bellowed that the Twins had one choice: to bring up No. 1 pitching prospect Jose Berrios.
Terry Ryan brought back Duffey. The anguished cry was this was a give-up move by the general manager.
Duffey has made seven starts since Aug. 5. He is 4-0 with a 2.06 ERA, and one home run allowed in those 43 ⅔ innings. Apologies are due all around to Duffey and to Ryan for his decision to give the right-hander a second chance 10 days after the initial disaster.
• The Twins came to spring training determined to use Danny Santana in front of Eduardo Escobar as the shortstop. This was advertised as full faith in Santana’s ability at shortstop, although Molitor and his coaches also saw holes in Escobar’s shortstop play.
Santana went rapidly backwards from his impressive rookie season (spent largely in center field). The Twins were forced to dispatch Santana to Class AAA and go back to Escobar.
On Wednesday, the Twins were about to settle for a two-run rally against Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, when Escobar reached for a pitch and looped a two-run single into right field for a 4-0 lead.
Since the Twins left Toronto, Escobar has been a lineup fixture and he’s batting .297 with 21 extra-base hits and 22 RBI. And his work with Brian Dozier around second base has been much improved over 2014.
I’m guessing the Twins go into 2016 with Escobar as their shortstop and Santana trying to make it as a utility player.
• Kevin Jepsen and Neal Cotts were Ryan’s late-summer additions to the bullpen. Jepsen was acquired at the July 31 deadline and Cotts in a waiver trade on Aug. 21.
Jepsen gave up two runs and got one out in his first Twins appearance. “Way to go, Terry,” was the shout from hardcore fans.
Since the Twins left Toronto, Jepsen has made 22 appearances, he’s been scored on in two of those and has eight saves with a 1.25 ERA. He’s been an adept closer as Glen Perkins dealt with injuries.
Cotts’ numbers haven’t been great, but there’s a sense of competence that was much needed from a bullpen lefty.
• Miguel Sano has 17 home runs and 49 RBI, and he’s done that in 89 games. Since the Toronto series, and while laboring for much of the time on a bad hamstring, he’s at .285 with 12 home runs and 32 RBI.
The worst loss of recent weeks was last Saturday afternoon, when Sano launched a game-tying shot above the bullpen, and then the Twins let the Angels off the hook and lost in 12 innings.
• Ervin Santana had six starts from July 29 to Aug. 25 and was 0-4 with a 9.20 ERA. And suddenly, in his last five, Santana is 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA and over seven innings per start.
He can’t pitch in the postseason, but Big Erv could be the starter to get the Twins there if he keeps it up.
The Twins were dead in Toronto. And now they aren’t. These were five major reasons.