The Twins moved to 6-1 during an 11-game homestead following a 8-5 victory over the Kansas City Royals at Target Field on Wednesday. Twins General Manager Thad Levine said this kind of streak is what the team needed, something the team hasn’t done since winning seven of eight games in early May.
“I think we have been waiting for the team to go on a run and I think we’re starting to see some things turn around, which is great,” Levine said. “I think it’s coinciding with some guys getting healthy, but we’ve gotten good starting pitching in this homestand and it has been very encouraging.”
Over the past seven games, the Twins have averaged 5.9 runs per game while hitting .306 as a team. That’s compared to averaging 4.2 runs per game and hitting a collective .236 through the first 83 games of the season.
On the mound they’ve posted a 3.29 ERA over 63 innings while striking out 58 and walking 14.
Brian Dozier, whose name is once again surfacing in trade rumors, provided the big hit Wednesday with a two-run homer in the sixth inning that increased the Twins’ lead from 5-4 to 7-4. He also drove in a run in the fourth inning on an infield single. Logan Morrison hit a solo homer later in the sixth inning to secure the victory.
“It put the game out of reach and I think that is something that is huge,” Levine said of the two homers. “We haven’t necessarily been able to do that. We’ve left the other team hanging around and then they have struck late in the game. This game. [Dozier and Morrison] stepped up and really put the game out of reach.”
When asked if this means the team might not trade some of their star players, such as Dozier and Eduardo Escobar, Levine said everything remains possible.
“I’d say if we keep winning six out of seven games, we probably would not [make a trade],” Levine said. “But we’re going to continue to evaluate the team. We’re going to continue to evaluate each and every outing and we’re going to try to be as patient as we can be. But we’re also going to keep in tune with the timing of the market.
“Nothing has really happened so far. But we are going to time the market as well as continue to monitor the club.”
Levine said the team is still waiting to get all its projected contributors back from injuries and a suspension.
“It has been great to get Jorge Polanco back,” he said. “We’re still waiting to play a game with our Opening Day lineup, which right now is without [Miguel] Sano, without [Jason] Castro, without [Byron] Buxton. We have been patient throughout the whole course of the season. But we have been waiting for this time and hopefully the team has turned the corner.”
When it comes to Sano and Buxton, Levine said they are more likely to play for Class AAA Rochester before rejoining the Twins.
Sano is hitting .315 through 15 games at Class A Fort Myers.
“There’s two elements to his rehab,” Levine said. “One was his bat and the other was his conditioning. He has done extremely well on both fronts. He has been very committed to the conditioning side of things and the offensive line speaks for itself.
“I think our hope is to get him moving through the minor leagues soon and maybe partnering up with Buxton at Triple-A in short order.”
Buxton has hit .239 in 17 games at Rochester since being sent down to rehab his broken toe.
“Buxton is now playing pain-free, which I think was the first objective there,” Levine said. “Secondarily, I think he has done a ton of work with [Red Wings hitting coach] Chad Allen down there, [minor league hitting coordinator] Rick Eckstein, and they feel like they’ve turned the corner offensively and the last five or six games, he’s swung the bat extremely well.”
Another big positive was Levine’s report on Ervin Santana’s outing Tuesday for Class AA Chattanooga.
“The best news was he threw, I believe, 25 sliders. Eighteen of them were strikes and none of them caused any pain,” Levine said. “That’s his out pitch and that’s a real important pitch for him and he did it without any pain. That’s encouraging.”
Still in the race
What kind of moves will Levine and Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey make?
If the Twins were in the AL East, they would be 21½ games behind the Red Sox. If they were in the AL West, they’d be 19 games behind the Astros.
But instead, the Twins are in a unique position because while they have played terribly before their recent streak, division-leading Cleveland is nearly as bad, having lost four in a row and sitting only eight games ahead of the second-place Twins, who have 72 games remaining.
“I think there is always still hope,” Levine said. “We have to control what we can control, which is playing the game well each and every night. We can’t really look at the standings right now. I think we have to hope by continuing to play well that we may look up in a week or two and we’re within shouting distance of the Cleveland Indians. That’s always been our goal, to be competitive within our division.”
Now the Twins will face a resurgent Tampa Bay team at Target Field beginning Thursday before the All-Star Game break.
“It’s a four-game series against one of the hotter teams in the American League,” Levine said. “They’ve put together one of the best pitching staffs in the American League [with a team ERA of 3.54]. It’s going to be a real test for our offense.”
• Basketball coach Richard Pitino talked about the Gophers’ nonconference schedule, after adding a home-and-home series with Utah for the next two seasons: “You have Oklahoma State, you have Texas A&M and potentially Washington or Santa Clara, you have at Boston College, who is a really good team. Then the one thing I wanted to do from a nonconference standpoint was I wanted a marquee game in The Barn. As good as those other games are, they weren’t in our building. So we went out and we’re starting a series with Utah that we think will be a really good game for us in early November.”
• One of the best prep receivers in the country will visit the Gophers on July 27 in Jaxon Smith-Njigba of Rockwall, Texas. But landing Smith-Njigba, a four-star recruit in the Class of 2020 according to 247Sports, will be a big ask for P.J. Fleck and his staff; he already has been targeted by Notre Dame, Baylor, Texas A&M, Stanford and USC. Possibly in the Gophers’ favor: Smith-Njigba’s teammate, Class of 2019 quarterback Jacob Clark, made a verbal commitment to the Gophers in early June.
• NFL.com reporter Adam Schein recently ranked the NFC North as having the best quarterback play of any division in the NFL, citing the Vikings’ landing of Kirk Cousins as a big reason for that rating.
• As the MLB trade deadline approaches, keep an eye on former Chaska standout Brad Hand, one of the best relievers in baseball the past two seasons. With the Padres this season, he has made 40 appearances while posting a 2.91 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 43⅓ innings. The Yankees reportedly have a great deal of interest in Hand.
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