After a brutal series against the New York Yankees — and a tough stretch of games overall since the All-Star break — the Minnesota Twins headed to the south side and took care of business, winning three of four from the Chicago White Sox.
The lead in the division got as small as a single game, but the Twins pushed it back up to two games with a win on Sunday and a Cleveland loss in Kansas City, which looked a little like this:
Trevor Bauer was blown up for eight runs — seven earned — in just 4 and 1/3 innings in a 9-6 loss at Kauffman Field on Sunday afternoon. It comes at a tough time for Cleveland as well, as they’ve concluded a stretch against the Tigers, Royals (twice) and Blue Jays and are now entering a stretch where they’ll take on Houston, Los Angeles (AL), Texas, Minnesota, Boston and New York (AL) — their own stretch of death which should, in theory, give the Twins a chance to put some distance between the clubs.
Nevertheless, here are the takeaways from the series with the White Sox:
1. The Twins emerged from their “stretch of death” with their lead intact — though not by much
Since the Twins and Indians met in Cleveland out of the chute after the break, the Twins have taken on the Oakland A’s and the Yankees while, as noted before, the Indians feasted on the Blue Jays, Royals and Tigers.
Where the Twins truly faltered was dropping two games in a row to the New York Mets right after the Indians series — including their first three-game skid of the season — as they otherwise more or less treaded water against the A’s and Yankees (3-4 overall).
The problem was that the Indians stayed blazing hot, going 11-3 since the series against the Twins while picking up 4 and 1/2 games in the standings. In fact, if it wasn’t for the exploits of Justin Smoak last Tuesday — driving home a run in the ninth and another in the 10th for a walk-off win at Rogers Centre — things would have gotten even dicier for the Twins.
But again, as noted before, the Indians are about to start their stretch of death. And while that is going on, the Twins will take on Miami, Kansas City and Atlanta — by no means an easy stretch with the Braves included, but certainly easier than Cleveland has things. The Twins and Indians reconvene in Minneapolis on Aug. 8, but not long after that, the Twins have another long stretch of playing just Chicago and Detroit.
The upshot is that both teams have a fairly easy schedule the rest of the way — the Twins just have it easier. It won’t help much from a “battle-tested” point of view, but it’ll definitely be a benefit when it comes to maintaining and increasing the divisional lead.
But that’s why the play the games on grass and turf instead of paper.
2. The team suffered no hangover effect from a grueling Yankees series
The Twins scored 28 runs in four games, allowed 11 and took three of four against a team that has sputtered out of the break. Meanwhile, the Yankees dropped three of four to the somewhat directionless Red Sox, and their starting pitching appears to be broken as the team allowed 45 runs in four games.
Nelson Cruz popped three homers in the series opener, and the Twins hit 10 overall while along the way becoming the fastest team to 200 home runs in MLB history. Winning games by fairly big gaps can make bullpen issues seem less pressing than they really are — as can getting good starts from the rotation — but it shouldn’t be ignored that Sean Poppen, Lewis Thorpe and Cody Stashak combined for six innings of one-run ball in the series.
Some — or all — of them might be casualties as the Twins address their bullpen needs at the deadline, but each of them has proven to be fairly valuable in their roles of late.
3. The Twins punished starting pitchers in the series — including Cy Young contender Lucas Giolito
Let’s look at it from a macro perspective:
- Giolito – seven earned runs in five innings
- Dylan Cease – five earned runs in five innings
- Dylan Covey – five earned runs, zero outs recorded
That’s 17 earned runs in 10 innings, and you don’t need to be a math whiz to know that ERA starts with a one and requires two digits.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t the big-time stud (Giolito) or the hotshot rookie (Cease) who shut the Twins down, but perennial punching bag Ivan Nova, who entered with a 5.49 ERA and 23 home runs allowed in just 119.2 innings. The Twins simply couldn’t get anything going against Nova, and ideally it wouldn’t matter much in a series where they took three of four, but every game felt more meaningful with the Indians nipping at their heels.
This is now the Twins’ chance to put some space between them and the Indians — now they have to take advantage of it.
4. The Twins are open for business — starting with the Sergio Romo deal but (almost certainly) not stopping there
The Twins acquired Sergio Romo — who has pitched very, very well of late — and designated reliever Carlos Torres for assignment before he even threw a single pitch for the big club.
Why does this matter?
Well, because the team could have easily optioned one of Stashak, Thorpe or Poppen and not opened up a 40-man spot by DFA’ing Torres. In short, they didn’t choose roster flexibility but instead showed faith in the kids — each of whom could simply be optioned to Rochester and returned to the big league as needed.
With three open spots on the 40-man roster, the DFA wasn’t a necessity. It could be showing faith in the kids while simultaneously showing that Torres — who did not have good numbers at Rochester — was simply up for protection, but in my estimation it shows that the Twins still have the flexibility to add as many as three arms in some form — one starter and two relievers or all three being relievers.
They may not necessarily use all three of those potential spots on outside help, but they still have the flexibility to do so if they wish.
I can’t imagine a scenario where they don’t add at least one, if not two, more pitchers before Thursday.