A Twins AL Central title chase that felt somewhere between inevitable and interminable for the last month ended abruptly Wednesday night. A quick Twins rally at Detroit. A Cleveland loss a couple hours later. Magic number from two to zero.
It could have happened in any number of ways, but the more I thought about it the more it seemed like Wednesday was perfect. Here are five reasons the way the night unfolded proved it was meant to be:
*The clinch happened on the road: Sure, it would have been more fun if Target Field fans could have shared in the excitement of the clinch. But really, this Twins team has been all about excellence on the road. Minnesota is now an absurd 52-25 away from Target Field.
You’ll recall the 1987 Twins were 29-52 on the road, and this year’s Twins have by far the best road record in the majors. Nobody else has fewer than 31 road losses, and the Twins will finish with at most 29 even if they lose these last four relatively meaningless games. FSN flashed a graphic Wednesday noting that the Twins only had one losing road trip all season. That’s consistency.
*It highlighted a key Twins strength and a Cleveland weakness in terms of opposition: The Twins are now 13-5 against Detroit and 38-15 overall against the three weak teams in the AL Central — the White Sox, Royals and Detroit (listed in order of weakness). Cleveland took care of business against Detroit and Kansas City (30-8 combined and even won the season series against the Twins (10-9).
But Wednesday’s loss to the White Sox dropped Cleveland’s record against Chicago to just 8-10 this season. The Twins went 13-6 against the White Sox. It’s a little too reductive to say that’s the difference in the AL Central division race, but it’s not wrong to say Cleveland’s struggles against Chicago were a factor, making it wholly appropriate that it was the White Sox who eliminated Cleveland from the division race and put a serious dent in its wild card hopes (Cleveland is 1.5 games behind Tampa and 2 behind Oakland, and Baseball Reference says they have just a 15% chance of making the playoffs now).
*Bombas: The two biggest hits Wednesday were naturally home runs — Luis Arraez’s two-run blast that put the Twins ahead 2-1 and Eddie Rosario’s two-run shot that gave them breathing room. Those two put the season bomba counter at 299. The Yankees, by the way, are stuck on 299 after being shut out Wednesday (a loss that almost assured that the Twins will play the Yankees in the postseason again). The Twins play four more times and the Yankees just three the rest of the regular season. Maybe Wednesday provided the surge needed to claim the home run crown and record?
*Resilience: Comebacks and steadiness in the face of pressure/adversity have been hallmarks of this Twins team. So it was only fitting that they needed a late-inning rally to grab the victory that led to their clinch.
*Unlikely heroes: As much as 2019 has been about known commodities taking a step forward, it has also been about players coming almost completely out of nowhere to make big contributions. Look no further than Wednesday’s two biggest heroes — Arraez and starting pitcher Randy Dobnak, both rookies who started the season in the minors — as prime examples.
Dobnak was pitching for the Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League two years ago. Seriously, that seems like a harmless lie you use to pad your resume — proficient in Microsoft Xcel. Pitched in the United Shore League — to get a foot in the door. Now he might be in line to start a playoff game after pitching the Twins to a win in the clincher.
Amazing. But so, so fitting.