Gray's sharp return flaunts Twins' winning formula

After Minnesota shut out twice in last three games, bats turn up heat late

June 16th, 2022

SEATTLE -- Sonny Gray was back with a vengeance. With the Twins’ offensive output as hit-or-miss as it has been in this recent stretch, these sorts of pitching performances have been particularly important in the team’s continued success.

It took 17 innings for the Minnesota lineup to snap out of its scoreless streak, but Gray’s five shutout innings kept them even with the Mariners until the bats woke up late, courtesy of Ryan Jeffers’ go-ahead RBI single in the seventh and clutch run-scoring knocks from both Carlos Correa and Luis Arraez in the eighth. Those efforts sent Minnesota to a 5-0, series-clinching victory over Seattle on Wednesday afternoon at T-Mobile Park.

By taking two of three in Seattle, the Twins have won three of their last four series, including triumphs over the Blue Jays and Rays -- and now, they have their two best starting pitchers back after Joe Ryan also returned to the rotation on Tuesday.

“We’ve been playing pretty good against some good teams, actually, without them pitching, which is very impressive,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Honestly, I’ve been very impressed with our group, but I think we’re a different team and we’re at our best when those guys are taking the hill and going out there and giving us starts like Sonny gave us today.”

Even while ramping back up to form after throwing a simulated game in his last outing against live hitters, Gray still completed five efficient innings on 65 pitches, giving the Twins only their third start of at least five frames in their last 12 games. He didn’t even feel like he had his best stuff, relying heavily on his curveball (32 percent of his pitches) because he felt that was the pitch he had working.

Gray still escaped a key jam in the third inning, when Taylor Trammell ended up at third base with none out following a double and an error, and induced a groundout and a popout before striking out Ty France, the Mariners’ most productive hitter, to keep the game scoreless.

In the meantime, the lineup’s bizarre Jekyll-and-Hyde routine has continued, as it has alternated stretches of being blisteringly hot -- 30 runs in four games against the Yankees and Rays -- and almost completely silent, as it was in being shut out twice in the three games leading into Wednesday. In the series finale, Mariners left-hander Marco Gonzales again held the Twins scoreless into the seventh.

That’s particularly confusing considering how the Twins’ offense has been extremely productive as a whole in 2022, entering the game with a 112 wRC+ that ranked third in the American League (behind the Yankees and Blue Jays) and 281 runs scored, also third in the Junior Circuit. But the Twins also entered the day having been shut out nine times, the most in the Majors.

“That is weird,” Correa said. “I would have never thought. I feel like we’ve been raking.”

It looked to be another one of those contests for much of Wednesday, with Gonzales holding the Twins hitless into the fourth, when Gio Urshela knocked a single to center, and without a runner in scoring position until the fifth. It took until the seventh, when Gary Sánchez singled and Luis Arraez followed with a walk, for Minnesota to get Gonzales out of the game. They quickly took advantage when Jeffers roped a 110.2 mph single off reliever Paul Sewald to finally reward the Twins for Gray’s effort.

“A lot of those days where we get shut out or we get couple-hit, you're like, 'OK, he's dialed,'” Jeffers said. “Logan Gilbert yesterday was dialed in. [Jeffrey] Springs the other day was dialed in. We know what we can do, and when you take a loss like that yesterday, you tip your cap to them and come back and say, 'Hey, we're the better team. We'll win the series today.'"

When the Twins have their own top-tier pitching to match up against such dominant opponents, they can still stay in these games and find opportunities to scrape together runs. That’s where Gray comes in -- and that was a winning formula on Wednesday.

“In a game like that, you just want to put up as many zeroes as you can, because you know how good and how deep our offense is,” Gray said. “You just want to keep the game where it’s at, because you know eventually they’re going to break through. They’re going to break through because they’re just that good.”