Their postseason ambitions now just a mathematical asterisk, the Twins have embarked on the what-if portion of their season.
What if his teammates drove home runs as methodically as Jose Miranda? What if Matt Wallner had been given more than a two-week look? And especially, what if Bailey Ober had remained healthy all season?
Miranda cracked three hits and widened his team lead in RBI and Wallner smashed the first Target Field home run of his career on Tuesday. But the pair of rookie hitters were overshadowed by their second-year teammate on the mound.
Ober retired the first 10 hitters he faced, racked up a career-high 10 strikeouts, including five in a row at one point, and pitched into the eighth inning for the first time in his career. In other words, the righthander who led the Twins to a 4-0 whipping of the White Sox was exactly the pitcher his team was hoping would blossom this year.
"Everything he did stood out. His ability to rip those sliders, that was pretty fantastic," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "What he could have done if healthy [is] not worth worrying about. The things we do know [are that] he is healthy right now, and he's throwing the ball about as well as I've ever seen."
Ober will presumably start the 2023 season healthy, his groin injury completely healed, so perhaps the pitcher that Twins have watched in his three starts since returning from the injured list will be a regular contributor next year. With his two-hit, one-walk shutout performance, Ober has posted a 1.56 ERA this month, with 18 strikeouts and only three walks.
Is this what the Twins can expect with some regularity next year?
"I hope so. I felt good at the beginning of the season. And to be able to come back here with my full repertoire and be in control of all four pitches, that's what I'm used to," said Ober, who induced 20 swings-and-misses and, like relievers Griffin Jax and Jhoan Duran, never allowed a White Sox batter to reach second base. "That's what I hope to bring out every single outing."
Former Twins righthander Lance Lynn didn't fare nearly as well in the 55-degree chill. The Twins strung three singles together in the second inning for their first run, scored again in the third inning on a pair of doubles, the second of them Miranda's team-high 65th RBI, and chased the veteran in the sixth when Gary Sanchez walked and Wallner drove Lynn's final pitch, a 2-0 fastball in the center of the plate, high into the air. It landed in the right-field seats, the Forest Lake High School product's second career home run.
"It exploded off the bat … and went up at an angle you just do not see balls leaving the yard in," Baldelli said. "When it was way up there and the ball was looking tiny, I'm thinking to myself, 'Oh man, there's a lot of outcomes here … but this ball might go out.' "