Let’s face the facts: If the Twins get swept by Cleveland this weekend at Target Field — and they will if the pitching doesn’t improve — they will lose the American League Central Division lead for the first time since April 18.
Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and manager Rocco Baldelli were in the longest postgame meeting of the season after the Twins lost to Atlanta 11-7 on Wednesday, and the manager didn’t come out to speak to the media for some time.
The trade deadline passed July 31, so that’s not an option. The only thing the Twins can do is find some pitching in the minor leagues, and this might be hard to do.
Since the All-Star break, the Twins pitching staff has allowed 134 runs (117 earned) in 226 innings over 25 games, resulting in a 4.66 ERA. What has been really difficult to figure out is that 70 of those 134 runs have come in only six games — including Tuesday and Wednesday against the Braves, when they were destroyed by giving up 23 runs in those two losses.
With Cleveland coming to Target Field on Thursday to start a four-game series, it seems like the Twins have a lot of questions to answer. There was an especially big move in the standings Wednesday: While the Twins lost their second in a row to Atlanta, Cleveland swept a doubleheader against Texas to cut Minnesota’s division lead to two games.
But in the Twins clubhouse, the mood was one of anticipation.
“It’s exciting,” closer Taylor Rogers said. “It’s all you can ask for, play meaningful games and have two good teams going at each other. Obviously we know each other pretty well, playing a lot over the years. It’s going to be a nice dogfight.”
Shortstop Jorge Polanco, who went 1-for-4 with a run scored Wednesday, said the team isn’t going to put any additional pressure on themselves for this series.
“I feel good about it and we’re prepared for them,” he said through a translator. “We never feel less than anybody else.”
Can the team still compete with Cleveland after they recently traded ace starter Trevor Bauer for power hitters Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes?
“Of course we can compete with them,” Polanco said. “We have to make adjustments and they have to make their adjustments. We’re going to go out and compete, just like any other team.”
Prep for Cleveland
Catcher Jason Castro said that before the series begins, the catchers, pitching staff and coaches will meet to devise a plan to face the Indians’ revamped lineup.
“They have added some depth pieces,” Castro said. “Obviously, losing Bauer out of their rotation is a good thing for us. We’ll look at how we’re going to attack their new outfield pieces that they got and continue to try to play our baseball.
“Some guys we haven’t seen before, [so we’ll] learn how to navigate through the lineup. But it shouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary. Just continue to go about our business and put together a good series.”
For Castro, this series is all about finding a way to stretch their division lead with only 48 games left this season.
“It’s a big series, and it’s one we’re looking forward to,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to put some distance between us. We’re looking forward to it and excited to have them in.”
Does he think the pitching has to improve?
“I thought they have been doing a great job,” he said. “There are times in a season where you’ll have a couple games where you’ll run into some rough ones, but that’s all part of baseball. I trust all of these guys in our rotation to continue to pitch like they have and put up some good games for us.”
Rogers echoed Castro, adding that the bullpen is getting to know each other better after the team traded for Sam Dyson (currently on the injured list) and Sergio Romo. When asked if he thought Cleveland improved at the deadline, Rogers was blunt: “So did we.”
Here’s one stat that might surprise Twins fans: Against the six teams they have faced currently in playoff position, they are 18-17 overall.
Cruz, Sano get hot
One thing the Twins have to feel good about entering this series is their two best power hitters — Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz — are wearing out opposing pitchers.
Since July 20, Sano is hitting .313 with seven homers and 20 RBI in 64 at-bats. He went 2-for-5 Wednesday with four RBI, including a three-run homer in the ninth inning. On Monday night, he hit a pinch-hit, walkoff homer to give the Twins their lone victory in the Atlanta series.
Cruz has been even hotter. Since July 24, he has hit .457 with 11 homers and 24 RBI in 46 at-bats, including two homers Tuesday.
Sano, who reported he is feeling as healthy as he ever has, said he’s had hot streaks like this before, but after Wednesday, he was more concerned about the team losing two in a row.
“We hit a couple homers, but the other team hit a couple homers,” Sano said. “That’s part of the game. We played hard, tried to get into the game and tried to win.”
Is he excited about the chance to face Cleveland in a big series?
“It’s a normal team that’s coming,” Sano said. “[Against] every team, we need to play hard, continue to do what we’ve been doing and win games. That’s what we have been doing. Nothing comes easy. If you want something, you work hard. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Cruz has by far the most playoff experience of any player on the Twins roster.
He made the World Series in 2010 and 2011 with the Rangers — including being named the ALCS MVP in 2011 after he hit .364 with six homers and 13 RBI in six games against Detroit.
He last reached the postseason in 2014 (with the Orioles), and Cruz understands the importance of this series.
“We’re ready,” he said. “We have to take it one game at a time; [Thursday] we take care of that and then worry about the next day.”
• The Vikings definitely will face former quarterback and No. 1 draft choice Teddy Bridgewater in Friday’s preseason opener in New Orleans. The Saints really believe in the former Vikings standout and gave him a one-year, $7.25 million deal this offseason. Last season Bridgewater appeared in five games for the Saints and completed 14 of 23 passes for 118 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
• Another player to look for Friday is former Gophers standout tight end Nate Wozniak. The Saints have moved the 6-10, 280-pound Wozniak to offensive tackle in his second season in the pros, and he figures to get a lot of playing time there.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. on Monday and Friday, at 2 p.m. on Friday and at 10 a.m. on Sundays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org