They won with power, they won with sharp starting pitching, and on Sunday, they won with a bullpen that tag-teamed Cleveland into oblivion. If this weekend’s four games were a preview of this bizarre season’s AL Central race, well, there might not actually be one.
Six relief pitchers limited Cleveland to two hits and one run, and the Twins won their third consecutive game of the series, and third consecutive series of the season, with a 3-1 victory at Target Field. Max Kepler doubled twice and scored both times, and Mitch Garver roped his first homer of the season into the bleachers in left-center, but the Twins offense was otherwise quiet in their quiet ballpark.
Didn’t matter, not with a fresh arm — and more important, an effective one — on the mound almost every inning. Cleveland managed a measly two hits for the second game in a row, on the 34th anniversary of the last time the Twins threw back-to-back two-hitters.
“We’re just going out there with the expectation that we’re going to win because we know how good we are. And that’s kind of what we did every single day of the series, and next thing you know, we win three out of four,” said Tyler Clippard, who began the game by retiring all six hitters he faced. “It’s kind of fun to go about the day knowing that you’re going to win.”
Especially against a team widely expected to dog the Twins throughout August and September, just as the Indians did last year. Make no mistake, Cleveland is still a dangerous club — no opponent will look forward to facing Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco and Aaron Civale in a playoff series — but the Twins may have made a statement about the pecking order in the division this weekend.
“It’s huge. It’s huge. You’re talking about a 60-game season,” said Clippard, who pitched for Cleveland last year. “You take three of four from a division rival, and a club that’s as good as them, with the pitching staff they have, it’s a big series for sure.”
Sure enough, that Cleveland staff gave up only 10 runs in four games, notable considering the Twins came in averaging more than seven runs a game. But it’s the Twins pitching staff that dominated after Bieber’s 2-0 shutout in the series opener.
Cleveland scored only two runs in the final three games, scraping together nine hits in 27 innings. Aside from those two who scored, no other runner reached third base Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and only six made it safely to second.
“Our guys came out very, very focused and just flat-out pitched great, top to bottom,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You start looking at the number of guys that were out there — I mean, you could talk about each and every one of them, because their efforts were great.”
Clippard set the tone for the day. Matt Wisler, Tyler Duffey, Trevor May and Sergio Romo all held Cleveland hitless for an inning or more, with Romo retiring the heart of the lineup in order for his second save of the season.
Only Devin Smeltzer, who pitched to 10 batters, faced more than nominal difficulty. He gave up a leadoff double to Cesar Hernandez in the fourth inning, and Francisco Lindor turned it into Cleveland’s lone run by bouncing a ball off the left-field fence. But Eddie Rosario grabbed the ball, wheeled and rifled it to second base, snuffing any further rally by retiring Lindor with the Twins’ first outfield assist of the year.
Kepler missed a triple by about a foot in the first inning, the ball instead spinning into the seats, and he missed a home run by about 2 feet in the third. Both were doubles, and both set up runs off Civale.
The other run came from Garver, who had been fretting about his 2-for-15 start. When he got a 3-2 changeup leading off the second inning, he lined it into the bleachers, then tore around the bases.
“I hadn’t run the bases in a while, so I figured I’d give it a good sprint,” Garver said.
The Twins might be doing the same to the AL Central race.