It’s hard to get too enthused about the chances for the Minnesota Twins (39-48) to play in the postseason this year, but they took a step in the right direction by sweeping the woeful Baltimore Orioles in four straight games over the weekend.

It was the first-ever four-game sweep of the Orioles by the Twins in the state of Minnesota.

After requiring the services of Fernando Rodney in the first three games of the series — wins by scores of 5-2, 6-2 and 5-4 — the Twins left no doubt they weren’t in the same class as the O’s with a 10-1 thrashing on Sunday over Twins potential offseason target Alex Cobb.

Not much has gone the way the Twins expected coming into the season, but with a four-game sweep of the Orioles in the rear-view mirror and the equally woeful Kansas City Royals set to come to town starting Monday, now’s the chance for the Twins to make up some ground and potentially get rolling for the first time all year — just in time for the All-Star break.

Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:

Capable starting pitching

It all started with a sturdy six innings from Aaron Slegers in the opener. And while we decry pitcher wins in this space, firsts in the big leagues are always special. 

In game two, Lance Lynn exorcised his demons from a rough start at Wrigley Field over the weekend with six sturdy innings, allowing just one earned run and six hits with three strikeouts and a pair of walks.

Lynn changed things up a little bit with 15 curveballs in his 105 pitches — 14.3 percent against a season rate of about 9.0 percent — but was otherwise right in line with what he’s done this year. He hit 97 with his four-seamer and threw mostly fastballs in a solid outing against a brutal offense.

Kyle Gibson dug a three-run hole early in Saturday’s game as Chris Davis muscled a fairly well-located changeup out to the berm in center field for a two-run homer. But after falling behind 3-0 after one inning, Gibson fired back with six scoreless innings while the Twins offense went to work.

The Twins scored five runs — three in the fifth, including a Max Kepler homer and two in the sixth — and held tight as Rodney allowed a run but sealed the deal in the ninth for a win to bring the Twins back to 10 games under .500. Gibson finished with nine strikeout and four walks, with a staggering 23 swinging strikes along the way.

Finally, Jake Odorizzi tossed a quiet six shutout innings on Sunday, fanning five batters, walking one and scattering five hits as he lowered his season ERA to 4.28. Per usual, Odorizzi mixed and matched with six pitches, getting four swinging strikes on his cutter (17.4 percent whiff rate), three on his sinker (15.8 percent) and two on his four-seamer (8.0 percent).

In all, Twins starters combined for 25 innings with five earned runs over the series — a 1.80 ERA.

Jul 7, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson (44) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

A stingy bullpen

This bunch combined to allow four earned runs in 11 innings — a 3.27 ERA — with each game featuring a single earned run allowed by the bullpen. 

The Twins, fortunately, did not have to turn to Rodney for a fourth straight game on Sunday, and even despite some struggles of late, the righty has been brilliant since his late April debacle in the Bronx.

Since then, he’s put up the following numbers:

  • 2.19 ERA
  • 27-9 K/BB ratio in 24.2 IP
  • .191/.270/.236 line against

Trevor Hildenberger also worked two games in the series — a pair of scoreless innings — as he held down the fort when things were tight as part of the bridge to Rodney.

Even with Hildenberger’s rough outing in Chicago last weekend, he still has a sub-3.00 ERA (2.93) with solid rates — 8.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 1.09 WHIP — altogether.

Jul 7, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Fernando Rodney (56) celebrates after defeating the Baltimore Orioles at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The possible coming out party for Jake Cave

Cave not only went 6-for-14 in the series, but also played stellar defense with some great plays over the weekend (see below). Not having Byron Buxton with the big club for over a month now has certainly hurt the big-league club, but Cave has done a nice job cushioning that blow of late.

He’s also hitting a very solid .267/.302/.483 through 63 plate appearances, which is more than competent for a guy who’ll probably slot in as a fourth outfielder when everyone is healthy and ready to go.

Jul 8, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Jake Cave (60) singles to left field scoring one run during the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Bombs over Baltimore

The Twins popped six homers over the weekend, with Logan Morrison, Kepler and Dozier both showing potential signs of coming out of prolonged funks. Beyond that, Mitch Garver stroked a two-run homer on Sunday to prolong his strong run at the plate. He’s now up to .268/.339/.395 on the season, and since June 1 — a span of 25 games — he’s hittin a terrific .323/.389/.462 with five extra-base hits. 

He’ll probably see more time behind the plate going forward, especially with Bobby Wilson struggling.

Jul 8, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins third baseman Eduardo Escobar (5) hits a home run during the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

The last of Manny Machado in black and orange?

The Orioles are a stunning 41 games under .500 and Machado is an impending free agent. He’s hitting an absurd .313/.382/.560, and it’s becoming high time for Baltimore to see what they can get for him before it’s too late.

The Dodgers seem to be the favorite in the clubhouse, but don’t sleep on Milwaukee as a possible spot, either. Regardless, if he’s wearing black and orange the next time the Twins see the Orioles, it would be a miracle of biblical proportions.

One deserved All-Star selection, one snub and one fringe case

Jose Berrios was selected to his first All-Star Game, MLB announced on Sunday. With the Twins still nearly 10 games under .500, it’s no surprise they only got one All-Star. As a result, Eddie Rosario could be considered a snub — he’s hitting a ridiculous .301/.342/.536 and was the only Twin on voting leaderboards all summer — and Eduardo Escobar was likely in the mix to be considered that as well.

The infield is pretty stacked in the AL — let’s be honest, so is the outfield — and it doesn’t help that Escobar has cooled off ever so slightly in recent weeks.

Nevertheless, Rosario is in the final vote for the last All-Star spot, and the Twins have banded together with the Brewers to push him as well as first baseman Jesus Aguilar, who is having an incredible season for the Brewers.

Unfortunately for Rosario, he’s competing against a Yankee (Giancarlo Stanton) and a member of the Red Sox (Andrew Benintendi), so his chances don’t feel all that strong.

Notes

  • Here are the upcoming pitching matchups for the Royals series
    • Jose Berrios vs. Danny Duffy
    • Aaron Slegers vs. Ian Kennedy
    • Lance Lynn vs. Burch Smith
  • Here’s how the Twins rank in hitting stats during July as a team: 102 wRC+ (14th), .441 SLG (10th), 15 doubles (sixth), 39.3 percent groundball rate (third-lowest)
  • Here’s how the Twins rank in pitching stats in July: 3.89 ERA (11th), 11 homers allowed (fourth-most), 11.6 percent swinging strike rate (fifth-highest)

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