The beauty of baseball is that even after a tough first inning, a team still has to buck up and play the next eight with ample opportunity to change their fortunes the rest of the day.
That was clearly true on Wednesday afternoon at Target Field, as Lance Lynn allowed a three-run homer to Salvador Perez in the opening frame, then went on to combine with three relievers to hold the Royals to just two more runs on the day in an 8-5 win in the series finale.
The Twins took two of three games in the series, with the Tampa Bay Rays coming in for a four-game set through the weekend to wrap up the first half. The win pushed the Twins to 41-49 on the season.
Lynn was by no means perfect — he gave up another earned run, lasted just five innings and threw first-pitch strikes to just nine of the 24 batters he faced, but he also showed the ability to grind out tough spots on the way to giving the team a chance to win the game.
One they desperately needed against one of the worst teams in the league.
Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:
Win probability table
Lynn wasn’t necessarily good, but maybe a little better than the numbers showed, too
A quick glance at Lynn’s line for the day — five innings, four runs (three earned) with two homers allowed, six strikeouts and three walks — won’t make anyone shriek with delight, but it was a play early that sort of dug a hole for the righty before the offense even got a chance to show up.
With one out in the first inning, Lynn induced a grounder off the bat of Mike Moustakas that Brian Dozier dove to his right to corral. He flipped the ball with his glove to shortstop Jorge Polanco, who was unable to handle it and everyone was safe.
Two pitches later, Lynn gave up a home run to Salvador Perez, and just 17 pitches into his day trailed 3-0.
Now only two of those runs were earned, but that’s because a double play is never assumed from an official scorer’s standpoint. Now with that said, the ball was well-struck — 96 mph exit velocity — and Moustakas is not fleet afoot. It was almost certainly going to be a double play, and not only that, but an inning-ending one.
Maybe Perez still homers — hell, the pitch he hit out wasn’t even a strike — to lead off the second inning, but that significantly reduces the damage Lynn not only sees in the early going, but also the day on the whole.
“For the most part after mid-May, I’ve been my normal self,” Lynn said when asked about how he’s pitched of late. Lynn came into Wednesday’s action with a 5.21 ERA for the season, but just a 3.49 mark since going just three innings against his old friends in St. Louis.
In that time frame, he’s allowed a hitting line of just .235/.330/.326 with 44 strikeouts and 23 walks, and that’s even counting his clunker of a start at Wrigley Field on July 1.
Lynn also acknowledged the Twins are in a tough spot, and need to win — and now
Lynn’s name is at the forefront of some of the trade chatter on the national scene, and a big part of that is that he’s only signed for the rest of the season, while the team is clinging by a thread to any potential playoff chances.
Lynn touched on some of that during his postgame remarks.
“When you look at where we’re at and what’s going on, we’ve gotta make a push now, or we’re going to kind of be in there where we’ve got too much to try and chew off at the end,” he said. “So we’ve gotta get going. We know that.”
Lynn said the potential to see players doesn’t really affect the urgency in the clubhouse, however.
“We have the urgency to win every day,” Lynn said. “It doesn’t matter what time of year it is. When it comes to trade stuff, that’s for you guys to talk about; we don’t pay attention to it. Whatever happens, happens. In this game, I’ve learned that you go where you’re told because they pay you. That’s just the way it works.”
The Twins offense showed terrific balance
Four players had multi-hit games as only Eduardo Escobar was held out of the hit parade for the Twins against Burch Smith and friends. Dozier, Joe Mauer and even Bobby Wilson had three hits apiece, while Jake Cave added a pair of hits to push his season line to a terrific .299/.329/.522 on the season.
Escobar even added a walk, so he wasn’t completely held off the box score.
Cave’s triple in the second inning pushed across the team’s first run, and he came home on a Wilson single to get the Twins within a run after two innings.
In all, the Twins had 15 hits and three walks against a ragtag bunch of pitchers for the Royals. Not only was Smith making his first start of the season, but the Twins also faced such luminaries as Glenn Sparkman and Tim Hill, who had a combined 28 MLB innings between them coming into the game.
The Twins did, however, get to newly-acquired lefty Enny Romero, as he entered for the sixth and gave up a single to Eddie Rosario, a homer to Dozier and another long ball to Logan Morrison to turn a 5-4 deficit into an 8-4 disadvantage.
Romero has had a tough season to this point — not only nine earned runs in as many innings, but also seeing action for three MLB teams to this point — but he was a pretty good reliever for the Nationals last year: 3.56 ERA in 55.2 innings, 10.5 K/9.
Cave and Max Kepler extended their hitting streaks to seven games, while Dozier moved his to six.
Dozier has been especially hot of late, as he’s gone 9-for-24 over the hitting streak (.375) with five of those hits going for extra bases (three home runs, two doubles). It may be too little, too late to start a 2016-style rejuvenation — that began in late May and lasted the rest of the way — but Dozier is clearly too talented to ignore the potential that he’s simply on the upswing.
Mike Moustakas is a bad man, and one who might be donning a new uniform soon
The burly third baseman is having a very Moose-like season, as he’s hitting .256/.310/.480 with 19 homers after popping a pair of longballs on Wednesday afternoon.
He got to Lynn for a solo homer in the third, and followed up by capping the scoring with another shot — this time to center — against Twins reliever Alan Busenitz.
Moustakas is also signed for just the rest of this season, and with the Royals going nowhere fast — 26-66 after this series wrapped — it’s clear he’s likely going to be on the move before the end of this month. The Yankees are reportedly in the market, albeit for a first baseman — a role Moustakas could quite likely handle easily as he’s been a solid defensive third baseman for much of his career.
In a recent series against the Red Sox, Moustakas made two starts at first base, and he’s made four at the position altogether this season. Those are the only four appearances at a defensive position other than third in Moustakas’ 924 MLB games. He has, of course, DH’d a little bit (34 games).
The bullpen — including new call-up Busenitz — was terrific
Despite the relatively short start from an innings standpoint, Lynn still gave the Twins 114 pitches in five frames before handing the ball over to Ryan Pressly in a tight spot in the sixth.
Lynn hit Duda with a 3-2 curveball — the second Royals batter hit by a breaking ball from a Twins reliever in as many days — and followed that up by walking Alex Gordon on seven pitches. Pressly then hit Alcides Escobar with a pitch, and suddenly the Royals had the bases loaded, nobody out and trailed by just a single run, 5-4.
Then Pressly went to work.
He fanned Tuesday hero Adalberto Mondesi on three straight pitches, Drew Butera on five pitches and also got Whit Merrifield to lift a lazy fly to Kepler in right to snuff out the threat.
Pressly gave way to Zach Duke, who tossed a scoreless inning, before Busenitz — who came up due to Addison Reed being placed on the disabled list — tossed two innings while allowing just a single earned run on a Moustakas homer.
In all, the trio tossed four innings of one-run ball with six strikeouts, no walks and just four hits allowed. As we’ve noted before, when the rest of the team cooperates, manager Paul Molitor can line up his bullpen and more often than not, things go to plan.
That was the case on Wednesday.
- MLB announced that Milwaukee’s Jesus Aguilar (NL) and Seattle’s Jean Segura (AL) won the final spots on the All-Star teams for next week’s game in Washington D.C. That means, at least for now, that Rosario will not represent the team with fellow Twin Jose Berrios. Injuries could still change that.
- The series win was No. 10 on the season for the Twins, who improved to 26-21 at Target Field this season.
- Lynn’s home ERA this season is 2.84.
- Smith was making his first MLB start since 2013 on Wednesday afternoon for the Royals. His most recent start had come with the San Diego Padres.
- The Twins improved to 3-2 against the Royals this season and 19-14 against AL Central foes.
- The Royals have just four wins in their last 27 games, and are second in MLB in terms of most losses (66). Baltimore, which just left Minnesota before taking on the New York Yankees, leads the league with 67 losses.
- Jason Adam pitched the eighth inning for the Royals. He was a member of the Twins organization briefly, coming over from Kansas City in the first place in the Josh Willingham trade back in 2014.
- Perez hit his 15th homer at Target Field — the most he’s hit in any road ballpark.