ARLINGTON, TEXAS – The Twins piled up 12 runs on Saturday, added a full game to their AL Central lead, and moved within one win of their first sweep in Texas in more than 20 years. Yet after watching Minnesota’s 12-7 victory over the Rangers, it was hard to feel good about Minnesota’s championship ambitions for 2019.
How far can the Twins go, after all, if Jose Berrios isn’t his All-Star self?
Berrios was staked to a 6-0 lead, handed three more runs to work with over the next four innings, and was facing a Texas offense that has scored the second-fewest runs in the AL this month. Yet the Twins righthander was unable to complete even five innings, and now finds himself in the worst three-game stretch of his career.
“He deserved better than what his line is going to look like after this game,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, citing a few missed plays by the Twins defense. “Overall, the start was probably not his absolute best, but better than what it’s going to look like on paper.”
Berrios surrendered a pair of two-run homers to former teammate Danny Santana in the first two innings alone, walked in a run in the fifth inning, and threw only 10 first-pitch strikes to the 24 batters he faced. He departed having allowed seven runs, and while only three were earned, due to a Miguel Sano misplay in the second inning, it continued a disturbing trend for the Twins’ putative ace.
Berrios has started three games in August, and allowed 19 runs in 16 innings, 15 earned. That’s an 8.44 ERA for a pitcher who, his track record says, tends to pitch worse in August and September than early in the season. Berrios has a career ERA of 4.16, but it’s 5.44 after Aug. 1.
“Have the starts been Jose’s best? No, but he’s a worker and he’s going to continue to figure this out,” Baldelli said. “He’s a very diligent guy. He’s going to continue to work with [pitching coaches] Wes [Johnson] and Hef [Jeremy Hefner] and get to where he needs to be.”
Saturday was the second time this season that Berrios had been unable to win a game after the Twins bequeathed him a large lead. Berrios was pulled in the fifth inning in Seattle in May after the Twins took a 15-0 lead.
The righthander still has 17 quality starts this season, by far the most on the team, and he ranked among the top 10 ERAs in the American League as recently as three weeks ago.
And the Twins offense seems to be hitting high gear again. C.J. Cron and Sano each homered Saturday. Cron’s drive into the right-field seats, capping a six-run first inning, was his 20th home run of the season, giving the Twins six 20-homer hitters for the first time since 1963.
The weird part of that inning was that none of the runs should have scored. Eddie Rosario hit a double-play ball that would have ended the inning without a run, but Rangers starter Ariel Jurado didn’t catch the relay throw from shortstop Elvis Andrus, allowing Sano to score. Then the Twins exploded: Mitch Garver walked, Luis Arraez singled, Marwin Gonzalez doubled, and Cron homered.
The Twins victimized Jurado again in the second, with a walk to Max Kepler and back-to-back singles by Sano and Jorge Polanco setting up Rosario’s sacrifice fly and Garver’s run-scoring slow roller.
"Sometimes it's easy to lose focus in games like this, because it feels like the night just goes on forever," Baldelli said. "But our guys did a really nice job staying locked in."
Tyler Duffey rescued Berrios when he allowed two fifth-inning singles and then walked Hunter Pence and Rougned Odor, forcing in a run to close the gap to 9-7. Duffey struck out Logan Forsythe and ended the inning with an Isiah Kiner-Falefa fly ball. Ryne Harper escaped damage in the sixth when the Rangers ran into an out at the plate before Trevor May brought order with two perfect innings. Zack Littell finished the Rangers off with a scoreless ninth, after Sano's two-run homer in the top of the inning made it a five-run lead.
"It was a job well done," Baldelli said of his bullpen, adding that Sam Dyson and Sergio Romo were not available after both pitched Friday. "... The entire group stepping up and getting us where we need to be and getting us the win was huge."
The game had tempers as hot as the 97-degree temperatures, too. When Gonzalez — 10-for-14 during this series — slammed his bat to the ground after grounding out to end the eighth inning, Rangers righthander Shawn Kelley yelled at him as he walked off the field. Gonzalez turned toward the pitcher, and both benches quickly emptied, But umpires separated the two before anything could boil over further.