The urgency in second baseman Brian Dozier’s voice was clear as he spoke about the Twins’ playoff chances.
“Well, we can’t wait around to see what happens,” he said. “We’ve got to go. We’ve got to start putting pressure on them. We have to try to run four, five, six in a row.
“That’s our goal. We can’t keep waiting, waiting, waiting. We’ve got to go now.”
There are a mere 13 games left in the regular season — barring a tie for the final wild-card spot, which would force a 163rd game — and the Twins are looking to put it all together and reach the postseason for the first time since 2010.
“We can win,” said outfielder and spiritual leader Torii Hunter. “We can get this wild card. We just need to do the things we have to do to win.”
The threats to their postseason hopes include the Astros, who beat the Angels on Monday night to move three games in front for the second, and final, wild-card spot. And the Angels became a threat after they took three of four at Target Field over the weekend.
The wild card could potentially go to Cleveland, only 1½ games behind the Twins thanks to a 19-10 stretch in their past 29 games.
The Twins have only themselves to blame for the four-team race. They were within a game of the second wild-card spot before losing five in a row last week. That and the Astros’ five-game losing streak that dropped them behind Texas in the AL West enabled the Angels and Indians to join the group of believers. Seven of the Twins’ final 13 games are against the Indians, starting with three games this week at Target Field.
“We’ve played well enough that these games are so meaningful,” Indians manager Terry Francona told the Cleveland media Sunday. “Rather than get too far ahead of ourselves, [we’ll] just take it as it comes and keep playing.”
The AL playoff race has been unpredictable all season. Houston, believed to be a year away from competing, led the West for most of the way before being caught and passed by Texas last week. Texas is somewhat of a surprise, as the Rangers appeared to be out of the race in July but changed their fortunes by dealing for lefthander Cole Hamels.
“Texas has had quite a run,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. “It’s just taken them a while to get going.”
Toronto, fueled by deadline trades for David Price and Troy Tulowitzki — before Tulowitzki went down to a broken shoulder — has taken the lead in the AL East, 3½ games ahead of the Yankees, who hold a three-game lead over Houston for the first wild card.
Kansas City has run away with the Central, but instead of the White Sox and Tigers contending for a wild-card spot as many expected, it’s the Twins and Indians.
The Twins are a flawed team. So are the other wild-card contenders. Molitor has run out of erasers while plotting his rotation five days in advance. The offense comes and goes. There’s a head-scratching baserunning blunder or throw to the wrong base every series. Which only makes the Twins very much like their competition.
“There is parity down there in that wild-card area and that is good for a lot of markets, including ours,” Ryan said. “If they didn’t have that added wild card, we would be in deep, deep trouble. Regardless, if you want to call it parity or not, it has been good for the game.”
Recent history has shown to expect the unexpected when teams are after a playoff spot at the end of the season. Texas led the West by five games with nine left to play in 2012 but fell to the wild card on the last day of the season and then lost the wild-card game. The following year, Francona and the Indians earned a wild card by winning the final 10 games of the season, ending with a four-game sweep at Target Field.
The Twins went into the final week of the season in 2008 and 2009 trailing in the division standings but surged to force Game 163 each time. It often comes down to which team gets hot at the end.
With 13 games left, the end is almost here. The Twins find themselves one hot streak away from the playoffs in Molitor’s first season as manager. Or one cold streak from elimination.
“I still feel good,” Molitor said. “I think with 13 games to go, you look at what is going on. We have a good chance to win our fair share and hopefully a little bit more than that, going down the stretch.
“You just can’t control if it is going to be enough when you are chasing [someone]. So that’s something we can’t really influence too much. Cleveland is coming in. They are flying pretty high. We get to face them seven times; over half of the remaining games are against them. Our job is to try to slow them down a bit and continue to find ways to win.”