Slumps, suspensions and injuries have forced Twins manager Paul Molitor to be creative when filling out his lineup card.
“We all know about the people we haven’t had,” he said. “The people we do have, we’ve tried to shuffle the deck at times.”
If Molitor is playing the hand he’s dealt, he’s holding a pair of aces in Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar — the two Eds.
The duo have carried the Twins offense, prompting Molitor to move them up to the top third of the batting order. They have met the challenge, combining for 39 percent of the Twins’ home runs, 33 percent of their RBI and 33 percent of their extra-base hits this season.
On June 3, Rosario capped a strong week by hitting three home runs — including a walkoff blast against Indians closer Cody Allen — to beat Cleveland 7-5.
Then, it was Escobar’s turn. The infielder won the most recent American League Player of the Week honors by hitting .462 and driving in eight runs.
He hit two doubles on Sunday in a 7-5 win over the Angels and leads the majors in that category. Escobar batted third Sunday with Rosario hitting second, a pairing that could continue Tuesday when the Twins open a three-game series at Detroit against Ron Gardenhire and the Tigers.
“Right now,” Molitor said, “with those two guys going as well as they are, it’s a combination you want to try to take advantage of.”
Rosario, 26, batted .368 with six home runs in May and is batting .342 with five home runs this month — and plenty of June remains. Molitor moved Rosario to the No. 2 hole so he can be a threat earlier — and more often — in games.
“He told me, ‘When you are hitting, I want you to get more at-bats if possible,’ ” said Rosario, batting .313 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI. “Sometimes this team has had some tough moments, but I’m going to try to help the team win.”
Escobar, 29, received early playing time at shortstop because Jorge Polanco is out until early July while serving PED suspension. Then he manned third base when Miguel Sano landed on the disabled list May 1 because of a left hamstring strain.
Sano is back and Polanco will return, but Escobar, batting .288 with 12 home runs and 39 RBI, has earned a spot in the everyday lineup. He’s sixth in league with .568 slugging percentage and ninth — one spot behind Rosario — with a .908 on base-plus-slugging percentage.
“I feel really good at the plate,” Escobar said. “For me, I’m happy because I’m coming here every day and I’m working hard.”
With 26 doubles in 62 games, Escobar is already just 21 shy of Justin Morneau’s single-season record of 47, set in 2008.
“I like the fact that he keeps a doubles mentality in his mind, which allows him to use the whole field and drive the ball into the gaps,” Twins hitting coach James Rowson said, “and when he catches it right, it is going to leave the ballpark.”
The one trait both players share — besides production — is a big hitting zone. Escobar swings at 40.5 percent of pitches thrown outside the strike zone, which is the eighth-highest mark in baseball. Rosario is 19th at 38.6 percent.
Rowson lets them hunt outside the strike zone in certain counts.
“Some guys are just gifted,” Rowson said. “They have good enough hands where they can get to balls that may not be in the typical strike zone and hit them hard.”
While the pitching staff has stabilized, consistent offense has been a challenge, and the Twins would be much worse than six games under .500 (28-34) if not for Rosario and Escobar.
Miguel Sano is batting just .206 with seven homers and 26 RBI in 35 games. He’s batting .095 with two strikes, the third-worst average (226th overall) for players with at least 75 plate appearances.
Logan Morrison is batting .193 with seven homers and 21 RBI in 56 games. His slugging percentage of .353 is 185th among players with at least 150 plate appearances.
Brian Dozier, given the day off Sunday, is in a 2-for-16 skid and is hitting just 239. Dozier will be back in the lineup Tuesday — most likely in the leadoff spot.
So the top three in the order are taken care of, because Rosario and Escobar are doing more than their fair share.
“Everyone has had a lot of fun watching them,” Rowson said, “and it has been the same way for me, watching these guys come into their own.
“To do it consistently is no fluke. They are putting together good at-bats, swinging at good pitches and hitting them hard. You want to keep them in that zone because they look really good right now.”