The calls have begun, Rob Antony said Thursday, though no names are being mentioned yet. But with five weeks until the trade deadline, teams are already working the phones, trying to sort out who will be shopping for help and who will be selling off assets.
And which group do the Twins fall into? “We don’t know yet,” their assistant general manager said. “We’ll [let] the next month dictate that. We really don’t have a good idea when we’re [three games] under .500 right now.”
The evidence has been conflicting. A 10-game losing streak in May was a setback, and the starting pitching took weeks to settle in. But the homestand that concluded Thursday with an 8-4 victory over the White Sox — a 6-3 stretch that concluded with a sweep of Chicago — offered new hope that a hang-in-there pennant race remains plausible.
“We got contributions from everybody, up and down the lineup, and that’s the key to having a winning baseball team,” said Justin Morneau, who, though not among the four Twins who homered on a breezy afternoon at Target Field, still furnished a critical hit. “The guys in the middle are capable of driving in runs, but if we get help from everybody else, that’s a really good sign.”
So is the growing stability of the starting rotation, with Scott Diamond the latest pitcher to offer hope for a strong second half. Diamond retired nine of the first 10 hitters he faced, and led 6-1 through five innings. He gave up back-to-back home runs to Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn in the sixth, cutting his day short, but he extended the Twins’ stretch of reasonably effective starts.
All nine starts during the homestand reached the sixth inning, and Twins starters combined for a 3.90 ERA. Not impressed? The starters’ cumulative ERA in April and May was more than a run and a half higher: 5.39. And with a bullpen that, despite frequent usage, owns the league’s second-best ERA (2.84), keeping games close is often enough.
Especially when the offense cranks out seven or eight runs a game, as it did every day against the White Sox. Thursday’s game, in which the AL’s 14th-best home-run hitting team smacked four of them, was extreme, obviously. Brian Dozier hit an upper-deck shot, his second in two days since recovering the leadoff spot, and the Twins’ 7-8-9 hitters — Oswaldo Arcia, Clete Thomas and Eduardo Escobar — all connected, too, something that had not happened in nearly nine years.
Then there was Morneau, who followed up Wednesday’s drought-breaking homer with a two-out, two-run single in the sixth, restoring a four-run lead.
“There’s a confidence level. We’re starting to have some guys pick up the pace with the bats,” Gardenhire said. “Hopefully, [we’ve got] some momentum after a good homestand.”
Whether momentum exists is debatable, but now would be a good time for the Twins to gather some. They left for a five-game trip to Cleveland and Miami, and they finish June at home against Kansas City. But July opens with an AL East gauntlet: two series with New York, one each with Tampa Bay and Toronto, opponents against whom the Twins are a collective 12-32 the past two seasons.
Can the Twins survive that stretch and stay relevant in the second half? The Twins are prepared either way, Antony said, especially since several recent teams, like last year’s Athletics, came from far back to earn a postseason spot. “You’re trying to figure out what you want to hang on to, what you’re building around, and what you’re willing to part with,” Antony said. “But you’d be really hard-pressed to give up on the season.”
Phil Miller • firstname.lastname@example.org