Manager Paul Molitor knows the Twins’ recent 9-2 homestand probably saved the season, coming after a 1-8 road trip that could have sunk the team in the American League Central standings.
“We were at a point where we had to do something to just keep our heads above water and give us some optimism coming out of the break,” Molitor said. “We could have potentially, if things were reversed, buried ourselves somewhat.
“It just kind of keeps our hopes alive of what we’re trying to accomplish here. We still have an uphill battle. But it was a nice way to respond after that trip to Chicago and Milwaukee, where we just couldn’t find ways to win. This home-stand hopefully bodes well as we start the second half on Friday.”
Over his first three seasons as manager, Molitor has posted a .457 winning percentage after the All-Star break compared to .475 in the first half, but what is more telling is that in the Twins’ two above-.500 seasons under Molitor, they had a dominant month at some point in the season.
In 2015 they went 20-7 (.741) in May while posting only one other winning month on the season, which came in September when they went 15-13 (.536).
Last season they turned it around in August, going 20-10 (.667) and taking control of the second AL wild-card playoff spot. They also had marginally winning months in April (12-11, .522) and May (14-12, .538).
Molitor said several players contributed offensively to the Twins’ recent winning stretch.
“That was a big part of our success,” he said. “As much as [Eduardo] Escobar and [Eddie] Rosario had good first halves, we saw [Brian] Dozier have a good homestand, Joe [Mauer], [Jorge] Polanco, I think, has helped coming back. [Jake] Cave has done a nice job and gotten hits for us. We’re spreading it out a little bit more. That makes it a lot easier to score runs consistently.”
Mauer ready to go
After going 41-40 at home last season, the Twins are 29-22 at home this season. Mauer said that while every team welcomes the All-Star break, he also wants to keep the positive momentum going.
“The boys are playing hard. We’re just trying to win each day and we have been doing that here at home, which is good,” he said. “Get some rest, get healthy and you know just keep playing the game.
“I know it sounds very cliché, but you try to win the game ahead of you and when you do that, good things usually happen.”
Mauer said he hasn’t seen any indications the players were ever close to giving up on the season.
“No, we still feel pretty good about ourselves,” he said. “We’re going to keep coming out and playing hard because that’s what we do.
“Guys are fighting hard, and we believe in ourselves. We try to shut out what everybody else thinks, but we know what we have in this room and if we keep playing the way we’re capable, we’ll be OK.”
While a lot of discussion has surrounded the potential return of injured and/or struggling players such as Ervin Santana, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, Mauer said it’s important to recognize how well their replacements have done in their place.
“The guys in here are fighting for each other, and that’s all we can do,” he said. “We’re going to keep battling and hopefully those guys can help us later down the road.”
While Mauer has only 29 RBI this season, eight of those came over the final nine games before the break when Mauer hit .378.
“I’ve been trying to have good at-bats and get on base and drive people in when [I] can,” he said. “I feel good. I’m excited to … get back after it in Kansas City.”
Does the rest help Mauer, now in his 15th season?
“I think so,” he said. “We just finished up 20 in a row and played in some pretty extreme conditions with the heat.”
Mauer is one of the few Twins who has never had his name surface in trade discussions. With the July 31 trade deadline approaching, he was asked if he wants to see this team stick together.
“I like this group,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep playing baseball [together]. I try not to worry about things I can’t control. I’m going to come here every day and try to win the ballgame that day.”
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Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • firstname.lastname@example.org