If the Minnesota Twins were feeling the weight of their 10-16 record after beating the Kansas City Royals 13-4 on Sunday, they weren’t showing it. Minutes after flipping a Whit Merrifield grounder to Luis Arraez to start the game-ending double-play, Andrelton Simmons told Marney Gellner, “This is what we’re capable of.”
The interview was played on the jumbotron at Target Field, to the approval of the sellout crowd. It was simulcast on Bally Sports North, where one day the ticker at the bottom will tell you that despite their Minnesota has a plus-3 win differential and is a good bet to pick up a few Ws this week.
The 13-16 Texas Rangers come to town to finish out the homestand. Then the Twins head to Motown to take on the 8-21 Detroit Tigers. Both teams are at the bottom of their division and are expected to stay there this year. Minnesota was 7-15 before winning three of its last four games and need to use this as an opportunity to stabilize before it can ascend to the top of the AL Central.
Was a .500 record in May the goal at the start of the year? No. But they had to have been affected by bench coach Mike Bell’s passing in the spring, a COVID outbreak, and other oddities like the lights going out in Oakland. Rocco Baldelli said that the team would play better once they got on a more regular schedule — no more postponements, more night games, better weather, etc. For the most part, they’ve delivered.
The 11-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals on an 80-and-sunny day in Minneapolis is the only real hangup. Sure, it was a day game, but most weekend games are. It wasn’t sleeting like it was in the Pittsburgh Pirates series, and it didn’t come after a three-day layoff like the doubleheader in Oakland.
It’s not like the Twins are fishing for excuses, nor should they be, but a poor start from Matt Shoemaker kept them from sweeping the Royals, who are unexpectedly leading the AL Central. It was a missed opportunity to make up ground. Still, the universal message coming out of the clubhouse was that they were feeling good again. Their demons had been exorcised.
“We had a lot of energy today,” said Arraez. “We focused a lot, and we just want to hit that ball, and that’s it. That’s what we’re thinking about. We’re thinking too much when we starting to hit ground balls — for more at-bats.”
“Yeah, more energy is a good way to put it,” echoed Mitch Garver. “I think approaches have been more consistent one through nine. Sometimes the ball hasn’t gone our way over the last few weeks, whether it’s a bloop that’s been caught. We hit a couple of balls hard today that were caught also. Some of those things are starting to fall our way, and I think that’s a good sign for things to come.”
Baseball players, and athletes in general, perform better when they aren’t thinking. The time for contemplation is when you’re staring at your previous at-bat on an iPad in the dugout. Once you’re in the arena, it’s best just to let instinct take over.
And now they’re feeding off each other.
“Guys are having a great time. Stringing those at-bats together brings a great feel and an energy,” said Baldelli when asked about their seven-run seventh inning on Sunday. “There’s nothing like it. There’s nothing like it when the guys get rolling.”
How long can they keep it going? Well, we’re about to find out.
If they sweep Texas and Detroit, they head to the South Side with a winning record for a weekend series with the Chicago White Sox. The Mighty Whities, as Ron Gardenhire used to call them, are expected to be Minnesota’s chief competition in the Central this year and have gotten off to a .500 start as well.
This week is an early opportunity for the Twins to put their poor start behind them. Nobody will be talking about them going 10-16 in their first 26 games if they are vying for the division with the White Sox at the end of the year.
Baldelli would probably claim the Twins don’t need anything right now, other than for everyone outside the clubhouse to chill out a bit. But he either unfamiliar or willfully ignorant of the team’s past. He wasn’t here in 2011 when Minnesota went 63-99 after a 94-win season in 2010. Or in 2016, when they followed up their first winning season in five years with the total-system-failure 103-loss campaign.
This season has the potential to be an ‘11 or ‘16-level letdown. It also could be the year they break their playoff curse. What happens this week will go a long way to determining which one it is. Until they took the final game of the Cleveland Indians series and blew out the Royals twice, they didn’t seem capable of going on a run. Now they do.