Chris Sale is regarded as one of the top possibilities to start the All-Star Game for the American League next month in Cincinnati. And why not? He wouldn’t have to face any Twins.
Minnesota damaged the lefthander’s All-Star credentials Wednesday, though, just as the Twins have all season. Chicago’s ace had allowed only three runs combined in his past five starts, but the Twins managed that many in an inning — twice — against Sale and danced their way to a 6-1 victory that concluded a 5-3 homestand.
“We just try to keep a simple approach. Nobody tries to do too much, just put the barrel on the ball,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said after the Twins’ third consecutive victory against Sale, who has lost only one game to anyone else. “It’s just one of those weird things [about] baseball.”
Weird for the Twins, probably unfathomable for Sale, who leads the league in strikeouts and is one of three AL starters holding batters below .200. His numbers are fantastic, his June has been dominant — and the Twins, in the midst of a scoring drought, use him for batting practice. Against the rest of MLB, Sale is 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA. When the Twins are the opponent, he’s 1-3 with a 6.46 ERA.
Oh, he managed to show Byron Buxton what a major league slider looks like; the rookie struck out in all four at-bats. And he extended his streak of double-digit strikeout games to seven, though his consecutive-inning streak with a strikeout ended at 38 during the Twins’ three-run fourth.
“He’s definitely pitched very well against us a lot of times, so it’s hard to say you have his number,” said Suzuki, who had a role in both Minnesota outbursts, driving in a run with a fourth-inning sacrifice fly, then just missing a home run in the seventh and settling for a double. “But this year, obviously, we’ve had some success.”
The Twins are starting to again, too, a heartening sign for a franchise that opened this homestand with a 4-11 record in June. They have played better lately, getting stronger starting pitching and tightening up their defense, and even the offense is beginning to revive. They pounded out four doubles against Sale, the most extra-base hits he’s allowed all season, and took advantage of some sloppy White Sox defense, too.
It added up to their fifth winning homestand, out of six this season; the Twins are now 25-15 at Target Field, the AL’s best home record.
“If you can hang around the .500 mark on the road, and do some damage at home, that’s not a bad formula,” manager Paul Molitor said. “We’ve been playing pretty competitive.”
A lot of that is starting pitching. Phil Hughes allowed only one run over eight innings, the Twins’ eighth quality start in the past nine games. Only 10 days after lamenting in Texas that he’s not working with his best velocity or movement this year, the righthander celebrated his 29th birthday by limiting the White Sox to one baserunner, at most, in all eight innings.
“He’s kind of gone back to trusting his three main pitches,” Molitor said. “He threw a couple changeups today, but between the four-seamer and the cutter and the curveball, if he’s commanding all three pitches, it’s a pretty good recipe.”
Hughes has allowed just one run in eight innings in each of his past two starts, and he’s got another one of those walk-free streaks going again: 21 innings and counting.
“I still don’t have my best stuff. It’s just a matter of being able to execute pitches a little better. Locate it, mix it up, move is around,” Hughes said. “I hope it comes around soon, but until then, I’m just concentrating on executing each pitch and not worrying about the radar gun.”
Or the home runs. Hughes gave up one to Adam LaRoche to lead off the second inning, tying him for the AL lead with 17 homers allowed — or one more than he gave up in 2014.
“A solo shot here or there, I’m going to give up home runs. The important thing is that they’re not two- or three-run homers,” Hughes said. “Right now, our starters are on a roll, we’re feeding off each other. There are a lot of guys here who don’t want to let the team down. That’s how winning streaks happen.”