ARLINGTON, TEXAS – It’s a little embarrassing how lopsided these games have become, but what can you do? When the AL’s worst record meets the AL’s best, blowouts are unavoidable.
Usually, though, you can tell which team is which.
The Twins finished their horrible first half with a decidedly optimistic flourish on Sunday, pasting the first-place Rangers with their highest-scoring inning of the season and running away with their seventh victory in 10 games, 15-5 at Globe Life Park.
This isn’t necessarily the team the Twins expected to field at midseason. But they finally are seeing some of the results they had envisioned.
“The young guys have injected some life,” manager Paul Molitor said after 23-year-old Max Kepler clubbed the Twins’ first grand slam of the season and helped his team match already in July the seven victories they managed to eke out in April. “We always talk about trusting the process, but when you get results, win games, you understand how enjoyable it is. I’d like to think these guys are hungry to win as many games as we can.”
The Twins enter the All-Star break with a 32-56 record, the second-most first-half losses in franchise history and the fourth-worst winning percentage. But the Twins also are baseball’s highest-scoring team over the past three weeks, and they closed out the season series with Texas with five wins in seven games, outscoring the Rangers 62-30. The Twins have reached double digits in runs five times this season — all since June 21.
“We’re just having fun. Everybody’s laughing before the game, enjoying themselves,” said Kepler, whose rookie season already has included eight home runs in only 46 games. “When you have fun like that, you forget about the bad at-bats, all the negative swings you take. We’re doing that as a team.”
In addition to Kepler’s bases-loaded blast, Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier whacked back-to-back home runs and Kennys Vargas homered for the third time since being called up a week ago. The Twins collected 10 homers over four games in the Texas heat, providing plenty of run support for their finally-coming-around pitching staff.
And while the sudden burst of offense is refreshing, Molitor can read the standings. He knows he can’t believe this 7.5-runs-per-game unit in July is any more genuinely representative of his team than the sorry lot that lost its first nine games of the year.
“You’d like to think that, but it still hasn’t been a long period. We’ve won some games, but still, in some of the games we’ve won, we haven’t played great,” Molitor said. “We’ve seen some things that have gotten better, mostly pitching. Some of the little things we’re doing in games, we’ve overcome them in some of these wins, but they’re the kind of thing that causes us to lose games. We still need to clean up as much as we can and minimize those mistakes.”
He is seeing progress, though. Take Vargas, whose eight hits in six games are all for extra bases, including a two-run homer Sunday off a slow curveball from Texas starter A.J. Griffin. (“I like slow pitches,” Vargas joked.) Molitor, though, noted Vargas’ three walks on the day, giving him six this past week.
“I think I’m enjoying the plate discipline as much as the extra-base hits. It’s got him in trouble in the past,” Molitor said. “You’re always looking for signs of maturity and progress. Kennys, he’s keeping it in the zone, where he’ll have a better chance.”
Maybe the whole team has a better chance. Lefthander Tommy Milone didn’t give up a hit until the fourth inning, and rookie Taylor Rogers bailed him out with an important double play when he got in trouble. No Twins starter has given up more than four runs this month, and the offense is as hot as the Texas sun.
“It’s good. We just need to think about how things have gone, what we’ve been doing,” Molitor said. “Regroup over the break and come back and realize we still have a lot of baseball let to play.
“And hopefully, play well.”