Dozier's incredible 2016 season has made him a valuable trade chip -- one of very few for a Twins team in turmoil. Could he be on the move?

The Minnesota Twins rode the right arm of Tyler Duffey and yet another home run from Brian Dozier to a 5-3 victory on Saturday at Target Field, but were unable to parlay that success into a series win, as the Kansas City Royals prevailed 11-4 in Sunday’s game, and 2-1 in the three-game weekend series.

The Twins have Monday off before opening a quick two-game set in Atlanta at the soon-to-close Turner Field. Tuesday’s matchup is right-hander Ervin Santana (5-9, 3.62) against right-hander Joel De La Cruz (0-5, 4.09). First pitch is at 6:10 CT.

Game 1 (Saturday)

Coming off a really solid run in 2015, Duffey has been embattled, to put it lightly, thus far in 2016. Saturday marked his 20th start of the season, and he came in with an ERA verging on 6.00 despite pretty good rates. Basically speaking, he’s walking fewer batters this year and his strikeout rate isn’t far from where it was last year, he’s just giving up far, far more hits.

Last year, opposing batters hit just .256/.318/.384 against him. For some context, that’s almost exactly what Royals right fielder Lorenzo Cain is hitting this year (.271/.314/.387) in what is an obviously down year for him. This year, opposing batters were hitting .302/.355/.517 against Duffey heading into Saturday’s start. That’s about the same as what Dozier is doing this season (.867 OPS after Saturday’s game).

For whatever reason, those things happen. Plenty of good pitchers have a tough time the second time around. In fact, perhaps an apt comparison is Scott Baker. In 2005, Baker made 10 appearances (nine starts) with a 3.35 ERA (133 ERA+). In 2015, Duffey made 10 starts with a 3.10 ERA (130 ERA+). For whatever reason, Baker took a giant step back in year two, posting a 6.37 ERA (70 ERA+) in 16 starts. The same has been true for Duffey, who had a 5.93 ERA heading into Saturday’s start, which comes out to roughly a 70 ERA+ as well.

Baker rebounded to be a more than useful pitcher for the Twins thereafter, and the same may be true of Duffey in the future as well. He showed a bit of that on Saturday night, as he posted his second quality start in a row by tossing seven strong innings with six strikeouts and a walk. Duffey allowed two earned runs, but basically the sole blemish on his ledger was a solo home run off the bat of Cheslor Cuthbert that wound up in the Twins bullpen.

For Duffey, it was the second straight positive start against a 2015 playoff team, and over that stretch he’s lowered his ERA from 6.21 to 5.71, and has a solid 14-2 K/BB ratio over those 13 innings. That’s surely progress. He threw 103 pitches, including an impressive 73 for strikes, and induced 11 swinging strikes, which is a relatively solid mark.

Offensively, three Twins had multiple hits. Eddie Rosario rebounded from wearing the collar twice in the span of four games with a pair of hits, including an opposite field home run to the Royals bullpen that proved a bit humorous. One of the Kansas City staffers out there dutifully handed it over to the Twins bullpen catcher, providing a little levity as Rosario snapped a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the sixth.

Robbie Grossman also got in on the action in multiple ways. He led the way with a game-high three hits, including his eighth home run of the season to the overhang in right. Every homer from here on out constitutes a career high for Robbie, who entered this season with 11 career home runs and a single-season high of six back in 2014. In distance is a season-high in walks for Grossman now as well, as he finished Saturday’s game with 44. His career-high is 55 — also in 2014.

As one might expect, Dozier was also the other Twin in on the act of multiple hits, while also poking his 25th home run of the season. He now stands a very, very good chance of breaking his career-high mark of 28, which was set just last year. He’s also shattering the notion that he fades hard in the second half, as he’s hit 21 home runs in 72 games since he was benched in late May, and has hit a scorching .319/.359/.723 in 29 post-All Star break games — with 11 home runs. His turnaround has been nothing short of incredible.

Game 2 (Sunday)

If the performance of the Twins on Saturday left fans encouraged, a great deal of that went by the wayside in an error-laden blowout loss to Edinson Volquez and friends on Sunday.

Hector Santiago, making his third start as a Twin and second at Target Field, put the Twins in a quick hole with a leadoff triple by Paulo Orlando, who scored two batters later on a sac fly by Cain. The Twins evened that up with yet another Dozier homer — his 26th of the year — in the third inning before the floodgates opened up in the next half.

Santiago allowed a six spot in the fourth, and perhaps the worst part was that all of the runs scored with two outs in the inning. Cain opened with a double, but Santiago rebounded to get grounders off the bats of Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales before business started to pick up. The sequence the rest of the inning went single, single, triple, hit-by-pitch, three-run homer and then a foul out to first, as the Royals broke the game wide open. The home run was by Orlando, who had four hits and was impressive all series long, as he also made a couple acrobatic catches on Friday night to rob Twins batters of extra-base hits.

The Twins did chip away briefly in the bottom of the fourth, as Eduardo Escobar singled home Joe Mauer and Max Kepler amidst a rough defensive inning for Hosmer. Hosmer misplayed Kepler’s grounder to first and the ball got under his glove on the Escobar single which allowed the two runs to score as the Twins cut the deficit to 7-3. The Twins added another run in the fifth as Mauer singled in Rosario, but that was it for scoring for the local nine on the day.

The visitors, however, would not be deterred. Two errors from Jorge Polanco in the sixth inning interspersed with a walk, fielder’s choice, a single and an error by Grossman out in left gave the Royals back four runs. In fact, the Royals plated four runs in the inning with just one hit, as three Twins errors played obviously a huge role and just one baseball — a Cain single up the middle — even left the infield that inning.

On the bright side, Taylor Rogers, J.T. Chargois and Ryan Pressly closed it out with three scoreless innings to keep the score steady at 11-4. Chargois is now up to 4.2 scoreless innings this time around with the Twins, leaving his season ERA shaved down to 8.44.

Notes

  • On Saturday, Rosario and Dozier went back-to-back in the sixth — the 11th time this season the Twins had done so.
  • Duffey’s win was his third in a row.
  • Dozier’s home run on Saturday was No. 100 of his career. The last Twin to reach 100 home runs was Joe Mauer on June 8, 2013.
  • Sunday’s loss capped the homestand with a 2-5 record.
  • The Twins committed four errors on Sunday — the second time that had happened this season. The other time came on July 31.
  • Grossman and Polanco each committed two errors on Sunday.
  • Santiago fell to 0-3 as a Twin with Sunday’s loss.
  • The Twins purchased the contract of left-hander Ryan O’Rourke prior to Saturday’s game. He appeared in Sunday’s game, tossing 1.1 innings with one hit, one run (unearned) and a strikeout.
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