Going from the south side to the north side of Chicago changed the Minnesota Twins’ fortunes this week.
After facing the Chicago White Sox, top team in the American League, the Twins had a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs — one of the National League’s best. They rebounded to win the weekend series two games to one. Outbursts of offense plus stellar pitching led the Twins to the two victories. Thanks to the successful weekend, they are still in the hunt for the Central Division title.
Minnesota is two games back of the division lead with five games to go: Two against the Detroit Tigers and three against the Cincinnati Reds at Target Field to round out the regular season. The players have maintained that their primary goal right now is to try and win the division. After clinching a spot in the playoffs after Saturday’s victory, they could be content with gearing up for a postseason run. But following Sunday’s victory, Max Kepler said the team feels they can still contend for the division title.
Starters Elite, Berrios Has Ace Outing
The weekend saw three consecutive games of stellar outings from the Twins starting pitchers. In 18 innings of work, the three starters gave up just two runs.
It all started with Rich Hill. Hill was locked in on Friday, throwing seven innings of one-run ball. In all, he gave up three hits and struck out five batters on 95 pitches. That outing is usually enough to get the Twins a victory, but he was bested by Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks pitched eight shutout innings, keeping the Twins from taking advantage of Hill’s impressive start.
On Saturday Michael Pineda threw 92 pitches in five innings, giving up one run and four hits. The three relievers after him combined to allow just one hit in the remaining four innings to preserve the Twins’ lead.
Jose Berrios didn’t have as much run support as Pineda did the day before. He didn’t need it, though, as he had a flawless outing on Sunday in the 4-0 win. Berrios scattered four hits and struck out four across six scoreless innings. That opened up the relief pitchers to throw three hitless innings and close out a shutout in the Twins favor.
Berrios has been more consistent this month. In three of his last four outings, he’s gone at least five innings and allowed no more than one run. He said after Sunday’s game that he “turned the page” and will be at the top of his game going forward.
Minnesota struggled for any offense in the opening game: The first inning was the only time more than four batters came to the plate. Unlike in the Sox series, this wasn’t a case of leaving runners on base or in scoring position — Minnesota left four only runners on base. Hendricks shut the Twins down before any threat could even be created.
That wasn’t the case in the final two games, though. On Saturday, the Twins hit two doubles and three home runs. Eddie Rosario got the trifecta of long balls started early with a solo shot in the first inning. He later hit a single to reclaim the lead, but Minnesota broke it open in the seventh. A solo home run, a fielder’s choice and a pair of singles later, the Twins lead ballooned to 7-1. For good measure, Josh Donaldson added a home run in the ninth to make it 8-1.
Sunday’s contest featured less offense, but the Twins drove in runs when they needed to. Yu Darvish is in the Cy Young race, and carried a sub-2.00 ERA coming into the game.
Minnesota got to Darvish early by scoring a run in each of the first and second innings. Rocco Baldelli said after the game it was imperative for the squad to make Darvish uncomfortable in the early innings. While they made that happen, Darvish was great until his final inning. As Darvish’s pitch count neared 100 in the seventh, a Jake Cave leadoff double set up Kepler for a two-run home run. Those four runs were the most Darvish has allowed all season.
The Twins are focused on having a chance to win the Central title. After the series against the Cubs, they still have a legitimate shot at it. They have just five games remaining: Two come against a well-below .500 team and three come against a .500, third-place team. If Minnesota can put together a longer stretch of success based off this past series, the Twins can fight for their second consecutive division title.