The Minnesota Twins came into Wednesday night with a 68-63 record. It might not mean much, but the 1987 Twins also headed into Aug. 30 with an identical record, en route to the first World Series in the franchise’s post-Washington D.C. tenure.
That 1987 team also caught fire late in the season, including perhaps most notably going 16-11 in September. In an era where only two teams from each league made the postseason, that 85-win club did the unthinkable — not only sneaking into the postseason but upsetting the heavily-favored Tigers.
Until the 83-win St. Louis Cardinals won the 2006 World Series, the ‘87 Twins stood as the team with the worst regular-season record to win it all.
Might 85 wins be enough to make the postseason again this year? Most of the projections seem to think so, albeit as a first or second Wild Card. Nevertheless, the parallels don’t stop there.
“They’re so hot here, it’s unbelievable,” said Seattle Mariners first baseman Alvin Davis in a pregame interview at the Metrodome on Aug. 16, 1987. “I can’t believe the difference between the team we played in Seattle and the team we’re playing here. Last night in the first inning, they looked like sharks — they really did — in a pool of blood.”
“They’re like sharks in a feeding frenzy!” said Mariners color commentator Rick Rizzs as Kent Hrbek launched a mammoth home run into the upper deck in center field at the Metrodome against Mariners reliever Scott Bankhead. The Twins scored 14 runs in that drubbing, including eight in the first inning — the one referred to by Davis in his quote — off starter Lee Guetterman and reliever Mike Brown as well as three more off Bankhead in the second.
The Twins finished off a four-game sweep of the Mariners, and were on their way to the postseason.
Similarly, this Twins offense has been red-hot, and is showing no signs of stopping after an 11-1 win over the Chicago White Sox at Target Field on Wednesday night. Jose Berrios followed Ervin Santana’s magic show Tuesday night with one of his own, and it looks like Nos. 1 and 2 in the Twins rotation are catching fire when the team needs them most.
“It was a really good game,” manager Paul Molitor said. “I think Jose had one of his better games. He’s thrown some impressive ones along the way, but when you think about command and being able to put guys away with strikeouts. I think he got stronger, and didn’t want to come out of the game after seven. But after the long inning and the score getting spread out, we went ahead and got him out.”
The Twins showed little regard for White Sox starter Derek Holland, who less than a week ago had stymied them for just one earned run on three hits over six innings. That had been Holland’s first good start in quite some time, as he’d posted ERA marks in excess of 9.00 in each of the last three months coming into Wednesday’s start.
For a team that came into Wednesday night’s game without the benefit of superstar third baseman Miguel Sano — who is reportedly not close to returning with a shin issue — and just a 93 wRC+ against left-handed pitching, the Twins looked to be very comfortable in the box against a guy who, after all, has an ERA in excess of 6.00.
It has been the offense which has carried the Twins in August. The Twins are 19-10 with a chance for their first 20-win month since May 2015 if they can complete the sweep on Thursday, but it’s not fair to say that the pitching staff hasn’t carried its own weight. The bunch came into Wednesday’s game ninth in MLB ERA in the month of August — eighth for the bullpen, 10th for the rotation — but that still pales in comparison to the offense, which has posted a 117 wRC+ since the calendar has turned over from July to rank fourth in MLB.
They might be threatening the Rangers (118) after this one, as the Twins brought their hitting shoes to the park on Wednesday evening.
For the second night in a row, a Twins hitter popped a pair of home runs. Tuesday night, it was Jorge Polanco becoming the sixth Twin to do so from each side of the plate. Wednesday night, it was Eddie Rosario, who not only reached 20 home runs for the season but had his own version of a lefty-righty split, as he homered off the lefty Holland in the third inning and followed it up with a long ball off a former teammate in righty Mike Pelfrey in the seventh.
It was quite a thrill for Rosario, who homered in the first at-bat on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues off Oakland’s Scott Kazmir. The cameras immediately panned to his family after he drilled that opposite-field home run, and like that night in 2015, Rosario’s family was in attendance at Target Field for another big night on Wednesday. They don’t get to too many games, but Rosario was excited to share that moment with his family.
“Against the lefty, I just wanted to stay inside the baseball and hit it to left field,” Rosario told Fox Sports North sideline reporter Marney Gellner. “I’m happy. I know my family here is very happy. It’s been a long time since they’ve seen me.”
The Twins offense played hopscotch all night long, scoring a single run in the first, two runs in the third and fifth and three runs in both the seventh and eighth innings. After only Polanco had multiple hits in Tuesday night’s game, four Twins had at least two hits on Wednesday. Rosario finished with a pair of home runs, while Ehire Adrianza and Mitch Garver each had three hits and Brian Dozier had four.
“It all started with Berrios doing his thing,” Dozier said. “I think the turning point of the game was the third or fourth inning. (Berrios) hit (Jose) Abreu and ended up giving up a hit to go first and third with one out. He got a big punch out with Matt Davidson up there. He walked the next guy, then got another big punch out with the bases loaded up three runs. That was kind of the turning point. You saw his emotion. He’s a competitor on the mound. It all started with him.”
Overall, the Twins had 16 hits — and nine of them went for extra bases. Adrianza became the first Twins player since Polanco last season to have two triples in one game, while Garver hit the first double of his career and added a triple as well. Not only did the Twins litter the bases with hits, but they also walked seven times against six strikeouts, as none of Holland, Pelfrey or Chris Beck were able to hold the Twins at bay. Only Jake Petricka, who came on in the eighth to strike out Zack Granite, was unscored upon as a White Sox pitcher on the evening.
“A lot of guys contributed with the bats,” Molitor said. “It was about as good as you can draw it up. We put ourselves in a position to come out tomorrow and finish a sweep and continue the start of a good homestand.”
Granite entered in the seventh inning for Byron Buxton, who left with a possible hand issue. Molitor said after the game that Buxton would be re-evaluated on Thursday, though the hope is that it’s nothing serious. Molitor had noticed that Buxton’s hand came off the bat during a swing earlier in the game, but for now he’s day-to-day.
On the mound, Berrios was absolutely dazzling. He tied a career-high mark with 11 strikeouts, and over 88 pitches had an absurd 20 swinging strikes according to ESPN — a whiff rate of 22.7 percent, or more than twice the league average.
Santana has found his second wind in August; is it possible Berrios is finding his? It may be too soon to tell, as he just dominated one of the worst offenses in the game, but he came into Wednesday night’s start with an ERA of 4.88 in August, and had gotten just 23 swinging strikes over his first four starts of the month.
He nearly did that alone on Wednesday.
What does it all mean? It means that at the close of business on Wednesday night, the Twins are equally as close to overtaking the New York Yankees for the first Wild Card spot — one game back after the Bombers were swept by Cleveland in a doubleheader on Wednesday — as they are ahead of the Los Angeles Angels, who pulled off a dramatic come-from-behind win over the Oakland A’s thanks to a late Cliff Pennington grand slam.
Meaningful October baseball at Target Field for the first time since 2010? It’s not an impossibility.
Notes and Quotes
- The Twins improved to 11-7 against the White Sox this season with the win.
- Per the game notes, the Twins are 19-11 at home since June 20, and 33-35 at Target Field overall.
- Rosario has hit 15 of his 20 home runs this season at Target Field.
- Dozier’s four-hit game tied a career-high mark.
- Mauer’s first-inning RBI double extended his hitting streak to eight games.
- Garver collected his first MLB multi-hit game with a 3-for-4 night.
- Molitor on Berrios working off his fastball and establishing command: “I think he’s learning how to use it a little bit better — especially when he has the feel. You can tell when he tries to get a little more run on it, watching the gun and the swings and the catcher. But when he wanted to hump up, he had more in the tank. We saw some 95s and a 96 along the way too. The breaking ball was better than we had seen it in the last two or three starts. I thought he had it working well. He didn’t need his changeup all that much. He had the command of those couple pitches that it was enough for him to get through seven innings rather cleanly.”
- Molitor on the offensive fireworks: “I think you could take odds on Garver having two homers before he hit a triple. But we hit the ball well; we had some loud outs that got to the track. Rosie, to be able to take that lefty out the other way, I thought that was a really, really good at-bat. He laid off some tough pitches. Our first three RBIs were from our two left-handed hitters. That’s a good sign that they’re staying in on that guy. Mitch had a really good game. Adrianza, who hasn’t really played a lot, had a really good game. Right on down the line.”