When the Minnesota Twins played the Seattle Mariners in Washington earlier this season, they outscored them 40-18. They won the first three games 11-6, 7-1 and 18-4, and lost the fourth one 7-4. They never trailed in the three games that they won, and it wasn’t the first time they had put put ridiculous scores against their opponents.
They have beaten the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Angels 16-7. They beat the New York Mets 18-4 and the Detroit Tigers 12-2. They’ve also had a couple doozies: a 10-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, 11-0 to the Houston Astros and 14-3 to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Mariners series in Minneapolis played out much differently, however.
They came from behind to win the first game 6-5, which was closed out by Kelso, Wash.’s Trevor May. In Game 2 they were tied 1-1 through seven innings, gave up five in the top of the eighth, scored three in the bottom half of the inning and Byron Buxton tied it 6-6 with a two run blast in the bottom of the ninth — but ended up losing it in the 10th inning. Then they took the series with a 10-5 win in the third game, powered by a six-run sixth inning.
Every game presents a new challenge for the Twins. They have to stay engaged throughout a blowout win, otherwise they may come close to blowing an 8-4 lead like they almost did when they had to unload the bullpen to beat the Angels on May 15. They have to bounce back from a bad loss like they did against Houston and in Tampa and Philadelphia. They also have had to squeeze out wins, like their 3-1 victory over the Angels on May 20 when they were tied 1-1 going into the eighth inning.
“Being reactionary and all of a sudden changing what you’re telling people and changing the way you’re acting as a staff member based on the score of the game, it’s not something that players probably react well to,” says Rocco Baldelli. “It’s not a good feeling when you give up four runs, and all of a sudden everyone is up in arms and has a lot to say about what’s going on. Just let these guys play and continue to do what they’re doing, and normally you’ll get the best result.”
The Twins have an identity now. They are the Bomba Squad: a power-hitting, resilient team that can come back from most deficits, but also one with variable starting pitching and bullpen depth that is largely unproven.
This means that they’ll play games where they’ll blow out a non-competitive team like Seattle, Detroit or Baltimore, and are capable of coming from behind because of their power. But they are also susceptible to bad losses like the games against Houston and Tampa.
“I mean it’s not an overly exciting way to describe it, but we do play a lot of games, and our guys have been around a long time, they’ve played a lot of baseball and they know what feels good and what kind of situation and environment feels good and which might not,” said Baldelli, verbally shrugging. “We talk about things all the time, but getting down a few runs really doesn’t change the atmosphere in the dugout at all.”
Which brings us to the Kansas City Royals series. After the Twins beat K.C. 5-4 on Saturday, the Royals had as many wins as Minnesota had losses (22). But the outcome of both games would suggest that both teams were closer in the standings.
Minnesota won the first game, a pitcher’s duel between Kyle Gibson and Brad Keller, when Mitch Garver hit a two-run home run off Jake Diekman in the eighth inning.
The second game started about 45 minutes late because of Joe Mauer’s number retirement ceremony, during which starter Jake Odorizzi could be seen warming up in the background. Odorizzi gave up two runs in the first inning, and the Twins found themselves down 4-1 before they put up four runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
“I think everybody does,” acknowledged Odorizzi when asked if the pitching staff believes the lineup is capable of overcoming a deficit. “I think from a pitching staff standpoint, when we’re behind in a game, we just need to try to keep that mindset.”
There are no rah-rah speeches or dugout discussions when the team goes down. Baldelli isn’t throwing around equipment to make a point. He’s more interested in facilitating an environment where players remain focused no matter what the score is.
“I don’t feel like you have to really verbalize anything,” says Baldelli. “I think just whatever it is you are, and however you normally act, that’s normally the best way to continue to act and be. I mean, I think everyone in our dugout understands when you go down two runs, or four or five or six runs, it doesn’t change anything that we’re trying to do.”
Even in an ugly third game, where Minnesota outhit K.C. 15-9, but left 15 men on base and lost 8-6, there still was a feeling that they would come back. Marwin Gonzalez flew out to right with men on second and third in the eighth, and Nelson Cruz was called out on a check swing with men on first and second in the ninth.
“The biggest thing is that we’re in first place,” said Miguel Sano after the 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 idea that the Twins should beat up on a lackluster AL Central comes from a good place. They’ve got plenty of games left against the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit and Kansas City, plus a slew of other bottom-dwelling teams in the junior circuit, and they should win those games to continue building interest in the team.
But how they win matters. To win in the playoffs, or even key games down they stretch as they jockey for playoff position, they’ll have to maintain large leads, get hits in key situations and occasionally come from behind. They won’t be playing the Royals or the Mariners in the postseason, but they can still take lessons learned from those games — even if they were closer than expected.