Maybe it feels like the Twins are backpedaling into this weekend’s showdown with Cleveland. Maybe giving up 23 runs in two consecutive losses to the Braves reflects a team in retreat, and maybe a two-game American League Central lead has never felt slimmer.
Or maybe, the Twins say, they’re right where they want to be.
“We’re playing good. We’re scoring a lot of runs, and we’re having good comebacks,” second baseman Jonathan Schoop said. “We’re ready. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Wednesday’s finale with Atlanta, an 11-7 loss that for the second day in a row felt over in the first inning, didn’t look like much fun, but the Twins doggedly mined lots of silver from those linings.
They kept up their scoring onslaught, nearly reaching this homestand’s average of 7.3 runs — albeit only after the Braves had opened a 7-0 lead. They moved to the cusp of a franchise record for home runs, now only one shy of the 225 the 1963 Twins piled up, with Miguel Sano bashing his 20th of the year — though, OK, there were two outs in the ninth when he did it. And heck, they even turned their second triple play in three weeks.
“It’s going to be exciting. We know what we have to do,” Nelson Cruz said of the Indians’ arrival on the heels of sweeping a doubleheader from the Rangers. “We can’t think about [winning the Cleveland series]. Just one game at a time.”
Still, Wednesday’s loss felt a lot like a dress rehearsal for the real show. The Twins used Martin Perez, who hadn’t recorded a win since July 5, and whose ERA has spiked to 4.80. With lefthander Max Fried on the mound for Atlanta and anticipating Cleveland’s all-righthanded rotation this weekend, they rested Max Kepler and Luis Arraez. And when the Braves took control, they turned to Kohl Stewart, just arrived from Rochester on a sunrise flight, to pitch as long as he could.
The result: A rested pitching staff for four critical games with the Indians.
“It allowed the back end of our bullpen to recoup and rest up a little bit,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We’ll take it. We’ll take a good, rested bullpen, all ready to go.”
The cost, of course, was another lopsided loss to a talent-loaded Atlanta team that appears to be improving by the minute.
Perez allowed hits to four of the first six batters he faced, two of them long home runs by Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman, the latter of whom has homered in four of his five career games at Target Field. Atlanta scored three more runs in the third, in an inning full of sloppy defense, untimely walks, several boos from the impatient crowd of 35,862 — and the sudden lightning strike of a smooth 5-4-3 triple play.
“I can’t remember seeing very many of them, but two of them this year have been definitely helpful for us and for Martin,” who was also on the mound when the Twins turned one against the Yankees last month, Baldelli said. “It did buy us a little bit more time and some more pitches and some more innings” from Perez.
The lefthander allowed seven home runs before the All-Star break, in 94 innings. He’s given up 11 in 27 innings since.
“I know I’ve been trending down, but I believe in myself and I trust my stuff,” Perez said. “I never gave up. I know good things are coming, and I’ve just got to be ready for when those days come.”
Minnesota’s offense came alive after 5⅓ terrific innings from Fried, who struck out 10. A five-hit sixth produced three runs and knocked Fried out of the game, and Sano’s three-run blast made the score more respectable in the ninth.
“It was good. We have a lot of great hitters on this team, so you don’t have to worry,” Sano said. “We’re ready for [Thursday].”