CLEVELAND -- After the Twins won both games in Saturday’s doubleheader against the Indians to clinch the series victory, the results of Sunday’s game at Progressive Field were likely to be largely immaterial in the big picture.
The Twins rested most of their starters, pushed José Berríos back a day and pitched a third straight bullpen game. Neither team was particularly sharp in the Twins’ 7-5 loss to the Tribe aside from an encouraging power show at the plate from Eddie Rosario, who knocked three hits and recorded his first multihomer game since April 20.
• Box score
Miguel Sanó also went deep in the defeat, while LaMonte Wade smashed the first homer of his career, a two-run shot that briefly gave the Twins the lead in the sixth inning.
If the Twins go 7-6 against the White Sox, Royals, Tigers and Royals to finish the season, the Indians would need to finish 12-0 against the Tigers, Phillies, White Sox and Nationals to claim the division title outright.
“It was a great series, it really was,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It was a tremendous job by our guys to come in yesterday. The resiliency, the effort we got from everyone, top to bottom, it was amazing. I told a few friends of mine: [Saturday] was, in a very sneaky kind of way, it was one of the most rewarding days I’ve had at a baseball field in a very, very long time.”
But still, a close contest in the series finale offered plenty to think about as the Twins enter the home stretch of the season. Here are three questions that arose in the loss:
Is Rosario finally heating up?
As the Twins’ lineup gets healthy once more, a resurgent September from Rosario marked by one of his trademark hot streaks would make a big difference in solidifying the run-scoring potential of this offense.
Long removed from a torrid stretch to begin the season in which he clubbed 11 homers and five doubles in 23 games, Rosario entered Sunday with only a .696 OPS since the All-Star break. But Baldelli stuck with his cleanup hitter because of Rosario’s track record of being able to heat up and carry a lineup at any given time.
With three homers in the last two games, that time might be dawning on Rosario once again.
"My swing felt slow before,” Rosario said. “Now, I have more bat speed and I'm seeing the ball really well and swinging at strikes. That's the key."
Rosario’s solo shots in the sixth and seventh innings gave the Twins four hitters with 30 or more homers this season, matching a Major League record that was most recently attained by the 2009 Phillies. With Sano at 29 blasts following his big fly in the third, the Twins appear a near lock to break that record before the end of the regular season.
“He was attacking some pitches and getting to some pitches in the zone that maybe he wasn’t last week,” Baldelli said of Rosario. “He got to most of them today. He was, I don’t want to say single-handedly, but he turns the game around. He’s just very, very dangerous. … He makes things happen very quickly.”
Are the Twins concerned about the defense?
Despite the barrage of homers and a strong spot start from Randy Dobnak, the Twins committed four errors, leading to three unearned runs that proved the difference. That’s not to mention a sixth-inning fly ball to left field with an expected batting average of .080 that Rosario couldn’t track down; it dropped for a double and led to Cleveland’s go-ahead four-run rally.
"That play's not too difficult,” Rosario said. “You need more concentration and a better job in the outfield to see the ball and play to catch the ball. Sometimes, you can't catch it."
Rosario had also misplayed a single in the first inning that led to a Cleveland run. Shortstop Ronald Torreyes' spiked throw brought home another. And Jonathan Schoop dropped the turn on a potential double play in the seventh inning, leading to another run.
“All the misplays that we had today are plays we fully expect ourselves to make,” Baldelli said. “They weren’t, for the most part, funny plays or kind-of-odd plays. They were plays that we should make. And when we take the field next and that same ball gets hit, we would expect to make all those plays.”
Why was Gibson pitching out of the bullpen?
Those defensive miscues contributed in part to a lack of success for starter Kyle Gibson in a surprising one-inning appearance out of the bullpen during which he walked a batter and allowed two hits.
One of those hits was a go-ahead three-run homer by Roberto Pérez on the second pitch of Gibson’s outing that made the Twins pay for Rosario’s miscue and a misplayed grounder by Schoop.
“I felt really good out there,” Gibson said. “I felt good warming up, felt good out on the mound. Sometimes when you get a little amped up, you can get out of your mechanics. I don't really think that happened too much. I felt good, and see what happens in this next week and see what happens with my start day here and where that moves to.”
Gibson made himself available in relief because it was his day to throw a bullpen session anyway, and with most of the pitchers in the bullpen unavailable after the doubleheader, Baldelli turned to Gibson in the sixth for his second career relief appearance.
With the Twins’ bullpen games having worked so well, could Gibson be a factor in relief down the stretch and into the posteason?
“There’s no way to really know right now,” Baldelli said. “We haven’t spent a ton of time lining that up. Gibby’s a pretty resilient guy. His arm is resilient. … He openly -- part of him, at least, is interested in helping, especially on these days where, frankly speaking, we had some capable guys down in the bullpen, but most of our guys were not going to be available today.”
Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.