With their team probably less than a week away from elimination, Twins fans could use some good statistical races to hold their interest over the final 13 games. There's Luis Arraez's pursuit of the AL batting crown, of course, and Carlos Correa's attempt to set a record for home runs by a Twins shortstop.
But don't sleep on Minnesota's charge to the top of the American League double-play standings. For hitting-into, of course.
Rookie Matt Wallner had the first multi-RBI game of his career Wednesday, and Bailey Ober retired the final seven hitters he faced in his second start since returning from injury. But the Twins' chances of matching the Royals were sabotaged, as they have been so many times this season, by a pair of double plays.
The result was the Twins' sixth loss in seven games, 5-2 to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. Combined with Cleveland's 8-2 victory in Chicago, the Twins fell nine games back in the AL Central, only 17 days after the teams were tied. The Guardians need only four victories or Twins losses over the season's final 13 games to eliminate Minnesota.
Ober, who missed 3½ months because of a groin injury, surrendered a home run to the first batter he faced, outfielder MJ Melendez, and allowed the next three hitters to reach base, too. He escaped the inning allowing only one more run, on a Salvador Perez pop-fly double, and pitched relatively well the rest of the way, giving up only one more run over five innings, that coming on a two-out single by Edward Olivares in the third.
"It was a pretty grindy one. I didn't feel the best out there, with stuff and location," Ober said. "But going through five innings, I felt like I was able to kind of battle — and those last two innings, I felt were pretty big, to get some zeros and leave the team with a chance."
Trouble is, his teammates couldn't capitalize.
The Twins, batting only .227 on this weeklong road trip which concludes Thursday afternoon, put runners on base in seven different innings against Royals starter Daniel Lynch and five relievers, but scored only twice. Wallner provided a two-out single in the second inning that scored Gary Sanchez, then doubled home Nick Gordon, again with two outs, in the fourth inning.
"You can really see when he makes a pass at the ball, it's violent, it's with intent, and if it barrels up, it's going somewhere quickly," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "So I've been happy with what I've seen from him. Really every time we've thrown him out there, he's done well."
But the Twins, trailing only 3-2 at the time, put their first two runners on in the fifth inning against reliever Collin Snider, then short-circuited the rally when Jose Miranda hit into a 5-4-3 double play. And when Sandy Leon singled in the seventh inning with the Twins still trailing by only one run, Gio Urshela erased the threat by hitting a double-play ball to third baseman Nate Eaton.
Urshela's double play was his 21st of the season, second in the American League behind Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., who has 24. It also was the Twins' 120th of the season as a team, briefly catching the AL leader Blue Jays, though Toronto almost immediately retook the 2022 lead by hitting into two double plays in Philadelphia.
The Royals eventually added two insurance runs in the seventh innings, one of the runs scoring on — of all the nerve — a double play. With runners on first and third and one out, Vinnie Pasquantino hit a ground ball to Correa, shifted to the right side of the infield, and he tried to tag Perez, who was headed to second base. But Perez stopped in the baseline, forcing Correa to throw to first base to retire Pasquantino.
Miranda then returned the ball to Correa to complete the double play by tagging Perez. But because the third out did not come on a force play, the run Bobby Witt Jr. scored while the Twins completed the play counted, increasing Minnesota's deficit to three runs.
Arraez went 0-for-1 as a pinch hitter, reducing his batting average to .313 and dropping him to second place in the AL behind New York's Aaron Judge, who doubled twice at Yankee Stadium and raised his average to .317 (Boston's Xander Bogaerts is also at .317). Correa, who has six home runs in September but has not homered on this road trip, has 20 home runs while playing shortstop this season. That's three fewer than the 23 Roy Smalley Jr. hit in setting the team record in 1979.
The Star Tribune did not travel for this event. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the event.