Twins not fretting after losing sole possession of AL Central

June 22nd, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- It’s much too early in the season to be thinking too seriously about the standings.

With that said, it bore notice on Tuesday night when the Twins slipped out of sole possession of first place in the American League Central for the first time since April 24, and particularly so when the Guardians closed the gap by dealing the Twins a 6-5 loss in 11 innings at Target Field -- and even more so still after the Twins had squandered an opportunity for a walk-off victory in the 10th with three straight strikeouts from the heart of their lineup.

The Twins led the division by five games when the month began; they’ve since gone 8-10 while the Guardians have gone 14-4 to make up the difference. Some in the clubhouse pay attention to those things. Others don’t.

“The standings in June don't really carry any significance for me, and those are things that we said when we were in first place,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It doesn't matter what place you're in, as long as you've got a chance. We've got plenty of games to play. I think we've put ourselves in a good spot to go forward.”

If nothing else, Tuesday’s game showed that nothing’s going to come easy in this battle for the division -- not even with the White Sox, the preseason division favorites, still scuffling around the .500 mark. A young, resurgent Guardians team has made sure of that -- and this is just the start of what’s looking to be a back-and-forth battle as these teams square off seven more times in the next nine days.

“I know they're playing really well right now,” said Emilio Pagán, who allowed a game-tying, two-run blast to Franmil Reyes in the eighth. “They were just in L.A. and played the Dodgers tight, who might be the best team in baseball. But we're a really good team, too. We've played them tight. I think we've played them four times now, and all four have been games kind of like that. So I anticipate a few more of those going forward.”

The four matchups between these teams have been split, 2-2, and they’ve been decided by margins of four, one, two and one runs. This game almost turned on its final swing, when rookie Jose Miranda drove a fly ball a Statcast-projected 368 feet to the left-field warning track that fell mere feet of leaving the yard for a walk-off, two-run blast.

On Tuesday, the Guardians executed in big situations, while the Twins couldn’t in the late innings. Luis Arraez brought the crowd to life when he crushed a go-ahead, three-run blast in the seventh inning to give Minnesota’s slumbering offense a 5-3 lead, even drawing scattered “M-V-P” chants from the 22,341 in attendance, following his third homer in his last 11 games.

“I hear the M-V-P, yeah,” Arraez said. “I feel amazing. My little hairs [on my arm] started coming up. I don't believe it, but I hear some people say that. I'm excited for that."

But in the following half-inning, Pagán lost a two-out battle with Reyes when he hung a 3-2 cutter down the middle and the slugger mashed it a Statcast-projected 419 feet onto the berm beyond the center-field wall.

Even after rookie Jhoan Duran completed a scoreless 10th inning by inducing an inning-ending double play to strand the automatic runner on third, the Twins couldn’t complete a walk-off in the bottom of the frame, when Carlos Correa, Max Kepler and Gary Sánchez all struck out with two men on. In the 11th, the Guardians got the go-ahead knock when Andrés Giménez dropped a bloop single in center field, and Miranda’s counterpunch in the bottom of the frame fell barely short.

And now, they get to do it again -- and again, and again. Fifteen of the Twins’ remaining 93 games will come against the Guardians, and another 16 will match them up against the White Sox.

“Challenge, I wouldn't say would be the right word,” said Byron Buxton before the game about playing the Guardians eight times in 10 days. “They play us eight times as well.”

“We're all going to play each other a lot,” Baldelli said. “So, when this thing shakes out months from now, none of us are going to be able to say that we didn't have plenty of opportunities, and we like that we get a chance to play these guys.”

“This is baseball,” Arraez said. “Tomorrow's another day. We win tomorrow."