MINNEAPOLIS -- With the Twins having embarked on a stretch of 24 consecutive games against division opponents, Josh Donaldson saw an important opportunity before Sunday’s series finale against the Indians. Before the Twins took the field, the outspoken veteran brought together all of his teammates for a meeting behind closed doors.
He wanted to drive home the importance of the opportunity that lies ahead.
“We’re getting to that point of the season where you hear, ‘the dog days of summer,’” Donaldson said. “And especially when you’re losing games and not playing up to par, that can beat some guys up. But I want to look at it the other way, and say, ‘Hey, we have so much room for improvement right now, that we can go out there and by playing with energy, by focusing and communicating ... and being aware of our own self and everybody else. That’s going to lead to us playing better.’”
Donaldson backed up all of that talk with his bat. The third baseman clubbed one of three Minnesota homers against Cleveland’s depleted pitching staff in the finale of a rain-shortened three-game series at Target Field, joining Andrelton Simmons and Nelson Cruz in going deep to power an easy 8-2 blowout win as the Twins surged to a series victory with their seventh win in their last nine games.
Once again, the Twins find themselves hoping that their momentum won’t slip away as they show encouraging signs of turning their season around -- as it has several times already throughout 2021. The task ahead of them this time: a four-game series against the first-place White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
This stretch truly might be the last chance for the Twins to mount a comeback and prove that they can avoid selling at the July 30 Trade Deadline.
Donaldson wants them to seize it.
“I think J.D. is showing some urgency, and I think J.D. is going out there and delivering a message that we all need to hear -- and I agree with him,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think it was an opportunity seized, and I think we saw some of the results on the field. Now, we have to carry it forward.”
Urgency is the name of the game with the Twins having closed the gap in the American League Central to 11 1/2 games, with seven games against the White Sox looming before the All-Star break. They certainly didn’t waste any time in putting Sunday’s game out of reach.
Trevor Larnach’s two-out RBI single off Shoreview, Minn., native Sam Hentges in the first inning got the ball rolling before Simmons crushed a two-run shot in the second inning, his first homer since May 16. Donaldson crushed a first-pitch fastball an estimated 417 feet into the second deck to lead off the third inning before Cruz put the game out of reach with a three-run blast in the fourth inning.
Seven of Minnesota’s eight runs came home with two outs as the Twins stubbornly took advantage of all of their opportunities -- as they’ll hope to do on a larger scale with a season that once appeared lost.
“All you need is a few at-bats like that in a game, in the biggest of the moments, to get it done,” Baldelli said. “When you stack them up a little bit, you end up with the result we had today. This is what we were looking for.”
All that backed an important pitching performance from J.A. Happ, who continued his rebound from the self-described “toughest stretch [he’s had]” in his 15-year MLB career with six innings of two-run ball in which he struck out seven and didn’t issue a walk.
Donaldson’s influence was felt there, too, as a continued resource for the veteran left-hander.
“I've been talking to him multiple times throughout this season already, but especially lately,” Happ said. “He's a good baseball mind. He's been behind me a lot for several years in Toronto as well, so he's seen me. It's just good to pick his brain a little bit, and he's willing to take the time to go over that stuff. That's helpful.”
Maybe this will finally turn things around. Maybe it won’t. But Donaldson’s right: The time is now.
“We have games to go,” Baldelli said. “We’ve played a lot of games, but we’re still at a point where we can go out there and still prove ourselves. Do we have all the time in the world to do that? No, we don’t.”