In our week six edition of Ups & Downs, the Minnesota Twins show plenty of promise on the road.
The Minnesota Twins wrapped up another week filled with games against the AL Central. The majors’ best road team took four of five (yet another rainout Wednesday) against their closest divisional rivals, the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians.
Their 4-1 record for the week puts them at 19-15 for the year, one game over the Indians, and the fourth-best record overall in the American League. Through 34 games last year, the Twins were 18 games under .500 at 8-26.
This week was highlighted by the return to form by the ace of the starting rotation, Ervin Santana, the return to the majors by one Jose Berrios, and the continual disappearance of baseballs over the fence by Minnesota hitters.
Oh, and a squirrel. Apparently one so vicious that the Cleveland grounds crew couldn’t even take to the field for over four minutes to try to remove.
It took a plea from Twins manager Paul Molitor to home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor to get someone, anyone to chase the rodent off the field so as not to disrupt his starting pitcher.
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UP: Ervin Santana. After giving up four home runs and six earned runs last Sunday, Twins fans were worried the bubble had burst for Santana. But Santana’s hot start doesn’t date back just to the beginning of the season.
No, it dates back to last June 19 against the New York Yankees. That win, his second of the season, began a string a great starts for the veteran right-hander. Over his last 18 starts of 2016, he allowed two runs or fewer in 15 of them. Three runs or fewer in 17.
He had but one hiccup against the Blue Jays in Toronto in which he gave up six runs, like last Sunday. And like the game against Toronto, he came right back to shut down a divisional opponent in his next start.
Last year, he picked up win number seven over the White Sox on September 1. This year he picked up win number six over the Cleveland Indians on May 12 with a 1-0 Twins win. While Santana didn’t have his “best” stuff, he still stymied the Indians for seven innings, walking five batters but allowing only two hits with four strikeouts.
UP: Home runs. The Twins have used the long ball to help them win some big games so far this season, and this week was no different. They were sleepwalking through Tuesday’s game against their former teammate Mike Pelfrey until Kennys Vargas woke up the offense with a two-run shot to cap off a three-run fourth inning to give the Twins the lead for good.
In Thursday’s game, the Twins smashed three homers in the first two innings to jump out to a 6-0 lead, enough to help them to a 7-6 win. In Friday’s opener against Cleveland, a first inning solo shot by Sano proved to be the only run scored all night.
In Saturday’s 4-1 win, Max Kepler‘s home run was just a cherry on top, the final run tallied. In Sunday’s loss, Jorge Polanco‘s shot to right field provided a weak spark in an otherwise moribund 8-3 loss that saw the Indians chase Hector Santiago with three home runs of their own by the third inning.
That streak of home runs this week takes the Twins to rarefied air. According to Twins communications director Dustin Morse (via Twitter):
UP: Jose Berrios. Once upon a time, J.O. Berrios, now Jose, the long-awaited heir to the throne – finally made his debut this Saturday. And he looked nothing like the nervous, timid, pitcher from last year.
In command from the start, Berrios struck out Carlos Santana swinging to begin his day. A tough out any day, Berrios caught Santana swinging at strikes one, two and three for out number one for 2017.
But Berrios pounded the strike zone all day, not worrying about strikeouts. He now knows his stuff is electric enough that even if hitters do make contact, they won’t be squaring many bats up on his pitches.
With his new outlook, Berrios kept his pitch count down, his walks down (1), and allowed but two hits into the eighth inning. After Berrios hit Lonnie Chisenhall with a pitch to begin the inning, Molitor left the young pitcher in the game.
He battled to get two more hitters, including his fourth and final strikeout, on pitch number 104. Taylor Rogers came in to get out #24, and Brandon Kintzler pitched the ninth to get the final three outs for his 10th save.
PLAY OF THE WEEK: Courtesy of Byron Buxton in Sunday’s loss to Cleveland:
STRANGE, BUT TRUE, STAT OF THE WEEK: The Twins’ 1-0 win over Cleveland was rare in the fact that a home run accounted for the only run of the ballgame. It was just the 21st time in team history that a home run accounted for the only run in a 1-0 win.
But, did you know? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Sano’s first inning home run was the first time in franchise history that a first inning home run accounted for the only run in a Washington Senators or Minnesota Twins win.