On Sunday the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals wore throwback Negro League jerseys. The Royals donned the red-striped white K.C. caps and white jerseys with red sleeves of the Monarchs, the longest-running Negro League team (1920-30). The Twins wore the dark blue uniforms, red belts and white caps of the St. Paul Gophers, a small club of black baseball players in 1907 that was formed before the Negro Leagues were founded.
“I really loved this,” said manager Rocco Baldelli acknowledging that the Negro League Hall of Fame is in Kansas City. “There’s almost a nostalgic feeling wearing these uniforms and stepping out on the field and in front of all these people.”
For a day, you could be convinced that Kansas City was the better team in this matchup, and Minnesota was a young, scrappy club trying to find their way. The Twins couldn’t overcome K.C.’s five-run third inning and lost 6-1.
If you hide each team’s record on the scoreboard, they would appear to be closer in the standings than they are. The season series began with two Twins wins in Missouri, a 5-4 win in 10 innings and a 7-6 victory. They won the first two in Minneapolis: 2-0 in a pitcher’s duel between Kyle Gibson and Brad Keller where Mitch Garver hit a two-run home run off Jake Diekman in the eighth, and a 5-4 comeback win where K.C. scored two in the first inning.
The Twins are 13-5 in one-run games this year. The Royals are 5-15. Minnesota usually seems to find a way to win close games; Kansas City frequently seems to find a way to lose.
“It’s a bunch of individuals that believe in themselves,” said Baldelli on Friday, “but collectively, as a group is when they really come together and they are to gain that extra confidence.”
“It’s just one of those things where you want to be with this group,” said Byron Buxton, who is injured and knew he wouldn’t play, but traveled with the team anyway. “We’ve got a special group, and the chemistry is great. It’s one of those things where you don’t want to stay behind.”
The Royals 8-6 win in the third game of that series was a contest where Minnesota both played sloppily and looked like they were going to come back to win throughout the game. The Twins committed two errors and had two other poor defensive plays. Martin Perez started and went 6.2 innings, giving up eight runs, four of which were earned. Matt Magill gave up three unearned runs. They left 15 players on base.
“Sometimes, we’re going to win. Sometimes, we’re not,” Miguel Sano said after that game. “We can lose one game if we’re going to win five, seven games. This is the best team I’ve seen in my life, and we don’t have any pressure about anything. We’re really good.”
The Royals beat the Twins pretty thoroughly on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium, scoring four runs off of Jake Odorizzi, who lasted only four innings in the 4-1 loss. But Friday was an example of where these teams are at this year. Kansas City jumped out to a 3-0 lead, was up 6-3 after five and still lost 8-7. Two of those runs came in the seventh, three in the eighth.
“I saw a lot of what we’ve seen several times over this year and in a situation where things didn’t go totally smoothly at all points of the game,” said Baldelli. “Especially early, our guys kept plugging away and continued to just do what we’ve done and have good at-bats and go out there and just do what you have to do to get people on base and eventually win the game.”
On Saturday the Twins won in 10 innings.
In a vacuum, it would appear that both teams were more equal than they are. In truth the Royals have as many wins (27) as the Twins have losses. Kansas City has young talent, fast players who can manufacture runs and a few pitchers who can occasionally keep a good offense like Minnesota’s in check. But the Twins are a significantly better team because they have the belief that they can win any game they play in and the talent to back it up.
Even though they’ve been blown out a couple of times this year, Minnesota is 20-8 in games decided by more than five runs. They’ve scored 220 runs in those games, and given up only 130.
For comparison, in their 59-win season in 2016, a year removed from winning 83 games in Paul Molitor’s managerial debut, the Twins were 15-29 in one-run games, and 14-33 in blowouts.
This series, specifically, isn’t a major cause for concern. The Twins haven’t had an off day since June 10, and will have two bookending the Tampa Bay Rays series this week in Minneapolis. But they have been put on alert: While they may be blowing away A.L. bottom-feeders with their offensive prowess, Kansas City won’t go down so easily.