When the Twins left Guaranteed Rate Field last Thursday, it appeared that they had left the AL Central Division title for the White Sox after losing three of four games there.
But a team’s fortunes can change quickly and greatly affect an abbreviated season.
Chicago has sputtered, suffering consecutive walkoff losses in Cleveland this week. And the Twins, despite playing without the sore-kneed Nelson Cruz, won their fourth straight game with a 7-6 victory over Detroit on Wednesday. The Twins now are one-half game ahead of the White Sox in the division race.
Chicago has a game in hand and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker since the teams split 10 games this season and the Sox have the advantage in the next tiebreaker, intradivision record.
The Twins still need a little help, but they will enter the final weekend of the regular season with a seat at the table and some chips left to play.
“I don’t see any difference in the past couple days,” outfielder Jake Cave said. “There’s been great energy, great energy in the dugout, the robe, all that has been fun. We’re playing really fun baseball right now. We’re having fun as a team.
“I don’t see why anything would be different these last three games. We know. We haven’t really talked about the standings or anything like that. Everybody just kind of knows that our plan was to win out.”
Cave put on the Rally Robe twice Wednesday thanks to the third multihomer game of his career, and he made a diving catch of Victor Reyes liner in the sixth.
Eddie Rosario added a two-run homer. And the Twins even had an inning when they didn’t use homers to score, as they hit three singles and stole a base in the third to produce their first two runs. They have blasted six homers the past two games, a good time to return to old habits.
Detroit didn’t make it easy, but it hasn’t all year. Miguel Cabrera socked two three-run homers, including one in the ninth off Sergio Romo to pull the Tigers within a run, but Romo got a ground-ball out on the next batter to end the game.
“Yeah, players are just working hard,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think guys are having fun. When you’re winning games, you’re definitely going to be having fun, but we’re getting a lot of good contributions from a lot of different guys, both pitchers and guys throughout the lineup who are swinging the bats well.”
Kenta Maeda, 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA, made it look easy for five innings. He was in command of this fastball, slider and changeup and Tigers hitters were overmatched. He retired 10 consecutive batters at one point, and the run would have been longer if Maeda’s throw to first on Eric Haase’s grounder in the second would have been on the mark. Instead, Haase ran into Miguel Sano’s arm as he stretched for the throw, ripping his glove off, and the burly first baseman was in pain for a few moments before continuing play.
It looked to be a signature performance for Maeda to punctuate his first regular season with the Twins, and the offense scored twice in the third, fourth and fifth innings to give him a cushion.
But then came the humbling sixth inning, when Cabrera hit the first of his two three-run homers to make it 6-3. Cave answered in the bottom of the inning to make it 7-3.
“Without that one swing, he was totally dominant,” Cave said of Maeda. “So it was good to help him out.”