The Twins’ April interlude closed Sunday with one final feel-good encounter with the Orioles, one more chance to simulate major league competition without ever seriously risking their spot atop the AL Central. The Twins beat Baltimore for the 12th consecutive time, hit another couple of home runs, and prepared to face a depressingly Orioles-free future with a 4-1 victory at Target Field.
A few lovely parting gifts would have been appropriate, because reality returns Monday: Justin Verlander and the Astros arrive in Minnesota, just ahead of the Twins’ annual treacherous trek to Yankee Stadium. Instead, it was the Orioles generously bestowing souvenirs, as usual.
“We’re just going to try to keep going what we have going right now,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, and it’s true, the Orioles are a great launching pad.
From the first pitch Orioles starter Dylan Bundy threw, it was clear that nothing had changed about the Twins’ bullying of Baltimore. Max Kepler smacked that fat fastball — 89 mph over the heart of the plate — into the seats above the out-of-town scoreboard in right field, his third straight at-bat that ended with a trot around the bases, and his third straight game with a homer.
“One day you see the ball like a beach ball, and one day it’s a BB,” Kepler said. “Everyone has that aggressive attack kind of mentality. It has helped my game a little bit, too.”
Byron Buxton led off the third inning with a mirror-image first-pitch shot to left, and the Twins broke their record for home runs against the Orioles in a single season. Buxton’s was the 23rd in just six games against Baltimore, surpassing the 22 they hit — in 18 games — in both 1962 and 1964.
“Just good to get that zero off the board,” Buxton said of his first home run of the season, one of 49 the Twins have hit in their first 25 games. “No matter what we’re doing — pitching, hitting, fielding — the confidence is there.”
But nobody may have been more sorry to see the Orioles walk out of his life for another year than Kyle Gibson, who treats these birds like pigeons. Utilizing his changeup more than ever, the veteran righthander limited Baltimore to three hits over seven innings, and didn’t allow a run until Chris Davis’ seventh-inning rainbow — more ironic than damaging, considering Davis’ ugly season — landed close to where Kepler’s had.
Gibson has a sparkling 4-0 record and 2.08 ERA in four games against Baltimore the past two seasons, allowing just 12 hits over 26 innings.
“I’m seeing what everyone else is seeing. It’s similar execution, except it’s just not having a very small spurt in the middle of the game where it wavers,” Baldelli said of Gibson, who is 2-0 but has started four wins so far. “He didn’t waver today, from the beginning of the start to the end of the start. And that’s how you keep a lineup in check.”
The Orioles, seemingly headed toward a second straight 100-loss season, produce happy stats for everybody these days. The Twins outhomered them 23-7 this year, outscored them 45-19, and steered their own season in a positive direction with a half-dozen games that were rarely in doubt. And if not for an errant Fernando Rodney pitch in extra innings on Opening Day last year, the Twins would have swept Baltimore in consecutive seasons.
They have now hit 48 April homers, or 19 more than their previous high, in 2002 and 1986, for the first month of the season. Nobody expects them to stay on this pace, but this might be the Twins’ most power-laden team ever.
“Before spring training, I looked at the lineup and was like, ‘Wow, this is a scary lineup if everyone stays healthy [and] mentally in the right place,’ ” Kepler said. “It’s going to be scary.”