MINNEAPOLIS -- Before this six-game homestand, the Twins’ leadership indicated that they would use these series as another measuring stick to evaluate how their roster (as depleted as it is) could stack up with a pair of big-name teams in the Yankees and Astros.
“You’ve got tremendous heft here on this homestand, playing two of the best American League teams that are out there, really getting a sense of where we stack up against them,” Minnesota general manager Thad Levine said.
The answer: Not too well.
The Twins were indeed competitive in the first five games of a sweltering week at Target Field, as Josh Donaldson, Jorge Polanco, Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sanó continued to surge at the plate, but the end result was still a pair of series losses. The second was capped by a 14-3 loss to the Astros on Sunday in which the gap between the two teams -- which met here last postseason -- appeared quite stark.
“We needed to do more on the homestand than we actually did, and we still have things to prove,” said Twins catcher Ryan Jeffers, who hit a solo homer in the fifth. “We still have a lot of games remaining, and we’re going to have to prove to everyone, including ourselves, that we’re capable of sustaining the good play that we show at times.”
The Twins’ two victories during the homestand -- a 7-5 win over the Yankees on Thursday and a 5-2 victory over the Astros on Saturday -- took an unprecedented flurry against an elite closer (Aroldis Chapman) and a Herculean effort from José Berríos, who could be a sought-after commodity at the Trade Deadline if the Twins continue on their present trajectory.
At this rate, that projection may soon become a conclusion. And, for the first time, manager Rocco Baldelli acknowledged that his club is running out of time to prove that it's capable of not being sellers.
“We do have a lot of games left,” Baldelli said. “Do we have a lot of games left to prove what we're going to be as the season goes on and the direction that we're going to take for the rest of the season? I don't know how many games left we have for that.”
“I'm sure it's in the back of some guys' minds that this roster might change soon,” Jeffers said. “But we're trying our hardest to not make that true. We don't want to be sellers at the Deadline.”
Another possible asset at the Trade Deadline, consistent right-hander Michael Pineda, exited Sunday after four innings and only 64 pitches due to a recurrence of the right forearm tightness that flared up two starts ago. He hasn’t gone more than 4 1/3 innings since the initial injury, and that was a start on Tuesday that was pushed back a day to give him time to recover. Baldelli indicated after the game that Pineda will need “a little break” to recover, giving him less time to continue building his trade value.
Pineda's departure began the patchwork cascade of relievers that emerged from a depleted bullpen, including two converted starters and the crown jewel of their free-agent pitching haul, as Randy Dobnak, Alex Colomé and Matt Shoemaker combined to allow 11 runs out of what the Twins had once hoped would be a developing and deep bullpen.
The saving grace for the Twins is that things will presumably improve from here, with Byron Buxton, Luis Arraez and Max Kepler all possibly rejoining the club on its upcoming road trip. That could, at least, give the Twins a closer approximation of the team they thought they would field at the start of the season.
But as Pineda’s injury reminded the Twins, that return to health also isn’t a sure thing.
“I think we're going to get there, but I don't know when that's going to be,” Baldelli said. “I don't know when we're going to have our full roster, or close to our full roster, on the field at the same time. And it's also not our job to simply be wishful and say, 'Hey, we need this full group on the field in order to show who we are.' No. I think we have to show who we are right now.”
And all the while, the clock keeps ticking.