SEATTLE – Hey, AL West, remember when the Twins belonged? They’d like to apply for membership again.
Ricky Nolasco allowed only three hits over six innings, and Joe Mauer, Miguel Sano and Robbie Grossman all clubbed home runs, earning the Twins a 5-4 victory over the Mariners and their first sweep in Safeco Field since 2007.
“The bats came through again,” Nolasco said of the offense that backed his second win of the season, the offense that smashed eight home runs over the weekend. “Homers are a crucial part of any offense, and to get those guys going like that is great. Sano, I’m sure that’s great for his confidence.”
Not bad for the Twins’ record, either. Sano and Mauer each homered in all three games of the series, they combined to bat .435 in the series, and they drove in 10 runs between them, or one fewer than the Mariners managed all weekend. With the middle of the lineup powering the offense, the Twins claimed their fourth straight victory, and their second sweep of the season. The other one came against another former West rival, the Angels, back in mid-April, meaning Minnesota, which switched from the West to the AL Central as part of 1994’s realignment, is now 8-2 against West teams, and 4-19 against its own division.
“It’s a really nice series for us” against a first-place team, Twins manager Paul Molter said. “It’s just a mini-run, but it does feel good, no doubt about it. It’s four games; we know how deep our hole is.”
The Twins ripped eight homers overall, their highest total in a three-game series since hitting eight on Sept. 2-4, 2013, at Houston, and they have 11 home runs during this winning streak. Yep, starting pitchers keeping the opposition quiet, and middle-of-the-order hitters punishing mistake pitches. Imagine that — almost two months into the season, the Twins, now 15-34 on the year and 7-19 on the road, have finally remembered the winning formula.
Mauer connected off Taijuan Walker to lead off the fourth inning, going opposite field once again. It’s the second time in his career he’s homered in three straight games, the last time coming in 2009.
Sano has done him one better. The 23-year-old slugger launched his 11th of the season two pitches after Mauer, the fourth consecutive game in which he’s homered. That’s one away from the franchise record of five, set three times by Harmon Killebrew and tied by Marty Cordova in 1995.
Grossman lined a home run to right-center in the second inning, becoming the second Robbie to homer in the game — Seattle’s Robbie Cano opened the scoring with a first-pitch, first-inning shot that shocked Nolasco — but his numbers are impressive, too: Grossman has reached base in all nine games he has played with the Twins, and he has eight RBI already.
“Everything is contagious,” said Brian Dozier, who singled, was hit by a pitch and stole a base. “We hit the ball hard, we threw the ball well, we played pretty good defense. We were talking in the dugout — this is how we expected to play at the beginning of the year.”
Well, let’s not get carried away yet.
“It’s [only] four games,” Mauer pointed out. “It was a nice series, and it’d be great if we can keep it going.”
And while Nolasco was good, closer Kevin Jepsen nearly gave it away in the ninth, allowing three hits and a Franklin Gutierrez homer before striking out Dae-Ho Lee to finish it off.
On the other hand? The Twins’ next stop is in Oakland. AL West, here they come again.