MINNEAPOLIS — In all likelihood, these final three series will end as the toughest part of the Twins’ schedule this regular season. They entered the nine-game gauntlet against the Blue Jays, Yankees and Rays without their top four starting pitchers (or five, if you count Kenta Maeda) and are nearing the end of a 37-game-in-37-day streak. .
The Twins’ 6-0 loss to the Rays on Sunday afternoon ended that nine-game stretch on a low note, but Minnesota still emerged 5-4 in that streak, with wins in series against the Blue Jays on the road and over Tampa Bay at target field. The offense continues – despite his latest performance – and the Twins’ top two starting pitchers, Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray, are expected to join the club in the coming days.
Considering all of this, they came out of this streak all the more encouraged by their performance.
“I think we’ve shown that when we go into a playoff series with these guys, we have more than enough to beat them in a three-game, five-game series,” Ryan Jeffers said. “We showed that, and we lost a lot of our shots. We lost a lot of our starters. We get those kind of players back, we’re a team to face.
The Twins scored 54 points during the nine-game streak against the American League’s first-, third-, and fifth-ranked pitching teams by WAR, according to FanGraphs. Before being shut out by Rays left-hander Jeffrey Springs on Sunday, Minnesota had given opposing starters six straight season highs in runs allowed: Kevin Gausman of the Blue Jays; Jameson Taillon, Nestor Cortes and Gerrit Cole of the Yankees; and Drew Rasmussen and Shane Baz of the Rays (albeit in Baz’s early season debut).
The Twins understand that in October, they will have to win games against these kinds of teams and pitchers. And while manager Rocco Baldelli doesn’t acknowledge the idea that a fight against any particular opponent makes more sense, several players have noted that those big wins have shown them they can hang on to the elites – something who seemed to be in doubt after Minnesota was swept by the Astros at home May 10-12 while outscored by 18 points (21-3).
“It just shows what we’re capable of and how much we’ve improved just over Houston’s series,” said Byron Buxton, who homered six in six games June 3-10. “It was a big eye-opener for us, to let us know what we need to try to work on and improve on.”
“Internally, there have been a few meetings,” Jeffers said. “There was some, ‘Hey, we have to get our stuff together if we’re going to go out there and compete with those teams.’ …when you get beaten by a team in a way that [Houston] beat us, yeah, it opens your eyes a little bit and says, ‘Hey, we need to do something a little different.'”
The Twins understand they weren’t even able to look their best in those three series yet, going 5-4 without Ryan, Gray, Bailey Ober or Josh Winder.
Consider this: The Twins’ five wins in that streak — two against the Blue Jays, one against the Yankees and two against the Rays — were pitched by Chi Chi González (twice), Devin Smeltzer (twice) and Chris Archer. The front two were nowhere near the starting picture when the season started, but as a bonus, Smeltzer emerged as a seemingly reliable option.
It helped a ton that Buxton is fully out of his May 30 0-for-30 skid, Carlos Correa is back from COVID-related IL, and Luis Arraez is the primary batting title contender. It’s a powerful and healthy 1-2-3 punch that leads the charge.
Above all, the Twins are playing loose and confident while having fun – something they didn’t do when shocked by the Astros in May.
“We saw ‘Houston Astros’ on the chest, and we just hunkered down and didn’t play loose and had fun and just played our game,” Jeffers said. ” That’s what we did. You saw in Toronto how loose we played. New York, we just played loose. I think that’s how you beat teams and know you belong.”
So was this a measuring stick of some sort for the Twins? Absolutely. But they also hope to have warned their opponents.
“I feel like the teams are measuring us,” Buxton said earlier in the homestand. “They don’t know what we are capable of, and that’s what makes us a little scarier.”