There’s just something magical about the seventh inning — at least so far for the Minnesota Twins. That is, your 2-0 Minnesota Twins, who have opened the season with back-to-back wins for the first time since opening the 2007 season with a three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles.
After a six-run outburst against the Royals bullpen in the seventh inning of Monday’s matinee, the Twins did well for an encore presentation on Wednesday, as a bases-clearing triple from Miguel Sano and a three-run home run for Eduardo Escobar provided the fireworks in a 9-1 win at Target Field on Wednesday afternoon.
Hector Santiago (1-0) was staked to a 3-0 lead early and held tight over five innings, scattering four hits and a pair of walks while allowing just one earned run. Santiago was lifted after just 88 pitches on a day where — according to the home radio broadcast — he was only going to go 90-95 pitches due to a truncated spring training regimen due to the World Baseball Classic.
Royals starter Ian Kennedy (0-1) bent but didn’t break, as it was again a sagging Royals bullpen that bore the brunt of the runs for the second game in a row.
After Santiago departed for the Twins, manager Paul Molitor pieced things together, getting three outs from Tyler Duffey in his first MLB relief appearance, two from Matt Belisle, two from Taylor Rogers, two from Ryan Pressly and the final three from Justin Haley, the Rule 5 pick from Boston who was making his big-league debut.
Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:
The Twins offense missed some chances in the first inning, but made Kennedy pay in the second
Brian Dozier popped out to Eric Hosmer to lead off the first on a 2-1 pitch, while Max Kepler followed suit with a 2-0 pop to Alcides Escobar at short. Byron Buxton followed with a looking strikeout — and an ugly one on a piped fastball at that — and Kennedy had a clean first inning despite not throwing many strikes.
Kennedy continued his roll into the second as he fanned Joe Mauer looking on a 1-2 knucklecurve. After that though, the lack of command finally hurt Kennedy as back-to-back walks to Sano and Jason Castro led to back-to-back nearly identical singles from Escobar and Eddie Rosario back up the middle. Robbie Grossman followed with a four-pitch walk before Escobar scampered home on Dozier’s jam shot that was too slow to get a double play on.
As a result of the inning — two walks, two hits and a fielder’s choice — the Twins had staked their starter to a 3-0 lead.
Also, for the second game in a row, the Twins made the other team pay for not doing one of the “little things” well, as Rosario picked up second base on a throw when neither Kansas City middle infielder covered second base.
Santiago barely broke a sweat — except for in the fourth inning — and was his usual “effectively wild”
Santiago hit Alex Gordon with the sixth pitch of the game, but erased him on a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play with Mike Moustakas batting one hitter later. After a Lorenzo Cain walk, Santiago got Hosmer to ground to second to end the inning. Santiago then faced the minimum in the second, third and fifth innings to round out his day. In the fourth, Santiago worked out of a bit of trouble as three singles in the span of four batters — Cain, Hosmer and Paulo Orlando — resulted in Kansas City’s only run of the day and a situation with two on and two out, but Santiago settled down to get Cheslor Cuthbert to line out to Kepler to end the threat.
Santiago only threw 20 strikes through his first 39 pitches in the first two innings, though he did recover to throw 52 strikes in 88 pitches overall.
If the Twins had a team song for this season, it’d be “Walkin’ on Sunshine”
Through two games, the Twins have walked 16 times. That’s the same number as runs they’ve scored and hits they’ve totaled. It appears to be a team effort as well, as six players totaled at least one walk in each of the first two games.
Castro eats his carrots
On Wednesday, Castro set a career high with four walks, and now has five on the season. For a point of reference, when the Twins sent Rosario down in mid-May last year, he only had three walks. For another comparison, Royals catcher Salvador Perez only had two entire months last year where he walked five times — and no months with more than five free passes.
Castro’s going to see pitches; he’s got a career 9.5 percent walk rate, which is a little over a percentage point above last year’s MLB average. On Wednesday, no hitter on either side saw more pitches than Castro’s 25 in four plate appearances. Every Twins starter saw at least 15 pitches, and in 40 plate appearances the team saw 173 pitches total. That comes out to 4.3 pitches per plate appearance — a mark exceeded by only four MLB hitters last season.
By comparison, Mauer was No. 5 in MLB last year with 4.3 (4.28 rounded up).
Eduardo Escobar had a phenomenal day in place of Jorge Polanco at shortstop
Escobar fell behind 0-2 in his first plate appearance of the game before stroking the ball back up the box on what can only be labeled a poor 0-2 offering from Kennedy.
Seriously, look where it was (the blue No. 4):
Escobar’s single opened the scoring, and he followed suit by closing the scoring with a home run in the back-breaking seventh inning that capped an incredible duel between him and reliever Matt Strahm, who was roughed up for the second game in a row and left with an unsightly 81.00 ERA through two games.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Molitor divides the time at short between Escobar and Polanco — who did nothing to hurt himself by reaching three times and playing good defense in the opener — but there can’t be too many cooks as far as the manager is concerned.
Did we mention Sano hit a TRIPLE
Royals starter Nate Karns came in to get some work before starting this weekend, and it was the Twins who put in work. After Grossman opened the inning by striking out looking, Dozier reached on an single through the shortstop/third base hole. He then stole second base on Karns — the scout behind me estimated that the righty’s time to home was a glacial 1.5 seconds — on a play where Perez had no chance to gun down Dozier. Kepler followed with a walk and Mauer did the same after Buxton struck out, setting up a bases-loaded shot for the 23-year-old Dominican slugger.
Sano followed with his third career triple — he’s been good for one per year so far — and despite a brief hesitation around second base, cruised into third with little trouble to clear the bases and give the Twins a brief 6-1 lead before Escobar’s home run provided the kill shot.
Ryan Pressly is a bad, bad man
Pressly fanned both the hitters he faced on nasty breaking balls in the dirt, and Brooks Baseball had his fastball as high as 97.7 mph. That’s legit, closer-type stuff….just like we’ve been writing all offseason.
Despite the win, Wednesday marked the smallest recorded crowd in Target Field history
After a sellout crowd of nearly 40,000 people on Monday — ESPN listed Target Field as 101.5 percent full that day — the Twins drew just 15,171 fans on a chilly Wednesday afternoon. The temperature (47 degrees at first pitch), school still being in session and an afternoon day game all conspired against the Twins here, but if they keep winning, playing a little afternoon hooky will be trendy again in downtown Minneapolis.
The Twins have absolutely neutralized the bottom third of the Royals lineup
Rustin Dodd — a wonderful Royals reporter from the Kansas City Star — says it all with this tweet:
To be fair, the bottom two hitters of Alcides Escobar and Raul Mondesi don’t project to be offensive juggernauts, but to this point the Twins have kept those two entirely off the bases (0-for-12 through two days). With Cuthbert and Paulo Orlando in the mix as the No. 7 hitters, so far it hasn’t been pretty.
By comparison, the Twins’ bottom third is 7-for-21 so far this season.
Both Duffey and Haley had meaningful — and successful — appearances
Duffey, who was a reliever when he was teammates with J.T. Chargois at Rice, made his first career MLB relief appearance, and was 91-93 mph with his fastball after reaching as high as 93.7 mph last year. Where his velocity sits as a reliever will be interesting, because if it ticks up with his excellent curveball, he could be a late-inning revelation.
The 9-1 lead heading into the ninth gave Molitor the chance to hand the ball to Haley for his MLB debut. Haley insisted after the game that it was “just another day,” and pitched like it as well, with nine of his 13 pitches going for strikes in a perfect inning of relief.
- Wednesday’s game marked the 13-year anniversary of Mauer’s MLB debut. On April 5, 2004, a fresh-faced 20-year-old Mauer batted eighth — behind Matt LeCroy and ahead of Cristian Guzman — against C.C. Sabathia and the Cleveland Indians at the Metrodome. The Twins won 7-4 in the 11th on a walk-off home run from Shannon Stewart, and Mauer went 2-for-3 with a pair of walks. Former Twins Matt Lawton and Casey Blake were in the lineup for Cleveland that day, as was current Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez.
- Mauer’s debut was the 16,000th in MLB history, according to Baseball Reference
- Don’t set your pitching matchups too soon for the upcoming White Sox series, as a couple of rainouts at Guaranteed Rain, er, Rate Field on the south side might back some guys up for the upcoming weekend series with the Twins. As of right now, it looks like the Sunday starter is TBD for the White Sox. Chicago ace Jose Quintana pitched for the club in Tuesday’s opener, so in theory he could be ready to start the third game of that three-game set with the Twins.
- Through two games, the Twins bullpen has combined for six innings with one walk, one hit and six strikeouts.
- Molitor on backing up Monday: “It was kind of typical Hector…he held them at bay. Castro did a nice job with the strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play. I thought that was a big play early in the game. We put the three runs up. Esco had a bit hit. Rosie had a big hit. Dozier put the ball in play with two strikes to get another run in. We had to kind of hold on for a while. Duffey got three really big outs, then we finally broke it open there with Miggy’s big hit and Esco coming through with the homer. It was great to see Haley get his MLB debut. It was a very nice overall win today.”
- Molitor on patience: “It works. I think these guys understand that patience is part of the game. When you get on base, no matter what fashion, it contributes to opportunities to score runs. You’ve got to cash them in, which we did today.”
- Haley on his first MLB appearance: “I think I did alright. It was great. The team got a win, that was awesome. I think the only down part was that my dad is on a flight right now and didn’t get to see it.” Haley said he gave the ball from his first game to his wife.
- Haley on his dad not seeing his first game: “I’m hoping you all can keep it quiet. Maybe I’ll throw tomorrow and it’ll be my debut again.”
- Sano on driving in runs: “I try to take any opportunity I can with runners on to get an RBI for my team.”
- Sano on the good start: “The team has played so good. Everybody has played hard and is doing the little things. We’re trying to hit good pitches and get walks. Like Castro, he had four walks today, which is good for him and the team, too. The team is trying to take opportunities with guys on base to bring them home.”
- Sano on just missing a home run early in the game: “The first one I thought was gone, but the wind brought it back inside. More importantly, the team won today. We played great.”
- Sano on what’s better, a home run or a triple: “I’ll take a triple. It’s better. *laughs* Buxton told me it looked good from the dugout.”