Twins wrap historic half; 'This is who we are'

Club loses Sunday's finale to Rangers, but enters All-Star break with record number of homers, most wins since '69

July 8th, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins ultimately wrapped up a record-breaking first half with a series win over the Rangers, but on Sunday, the Bomba Squad couldn’t come up with one more big hit in a season that has been full of them.

A makeshift pitching plan that featured as an opener on short rest and Devin Smeltzer as the bulk man worked to perfection, but a strong effort by the bullpen was ultimately blemished by a three-run homer by Rougned Odor off in the 11th inning that sent the Twins to a 4-1 loss to the Rangers at Target Field.

“I think if you asked us April 1 if we had a 5 1/2-game lead in the division at the All-Star break, everyone would be pretty happy,” Gibson said. “And today stings a little bit, losing in extra innings, but if we win the rest of the series the rest of the year, once again, we would be pretty happy. So perspective is a big thing in trying not to hang on every loss, hang on every win and trying to remain consistent.”

hit a one-out single in the 10th inning and reached on a fielding error off the glove of Rangers first baseman Ronald Guzman, before both runners moved up to set up a game-winning opportunity for , who popped out and smashed his bat to the ground in frustration.

The game would not have gotten to that point had it not been for a stellar throw from Rangers center fielder Joey Gallo in the fourth inning, when Kepler lifted a one-out fly to center field with men on second and third, but was thrown out at third base to end the inning before could score the go-ahead run.

“I’m sure [Buxton has] tagged on that ball, I couldn’t tell you how many times in his career, and he’s safe,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’s not only safe; he’s clearly safe. Gallo has one of the better arms in baseball, he can really throw. … It’s a good talking point and it’s a good play for everyone to watch and kind of learn something from, too, because obviously we did our job in every other way. It’s a run that probably should have scored and just ultimately didn’t.”

The Twins completed the first half with a 56-33 record, their most wins entering the All-Star break since they were 59-37 in the first half of the 1969 season. They broke the all-time Major League record with 166 homers before the break, own the best home-run differential in baseball and haven’t lost more than two games in a row at any point this season.

“It’s unexpected,” Baldelli said. “It’s impressive. You can label it whatever you want, but now there’s an expectation here in the clubhouse that this is who we are and this is something we’re going to continue to do as the season rolls on.”

After building a lead of as many as 11 1/2 games over the Indians by the beginning of June, the Twins have had to deal with injuries, at various points, to their top six outfield options, and currently have five players on the injured list, including All-Star Jake Odorizzi, a pair of productive starters in Eddie Rosario and C.J. Cron, and do-it-all man Willians Astudillo.

So the welcome four-day break couldn’t have come at a better time for the Twins, who expect to get Rosario and Odorizzi back early in the second half, while some of the other players dealing with minor ailments on the roster -- including Kepler and Marwin Gonzalez -- should certainly benefit from the time off their feet. The club also optioned Smeltzer back to Triple-A after the game.

“Almost every guy in that clubhouse has given up his body for this team,” Baldelli said. “It's been challenging. There are days where everyone out there knows that it's been difficult to field nine guys that can take the field. Because of that and the way that we've been able to continue to play and persevere and go through this stretch, I think our guys should be extremely proud of themselves and very happy with the way this has gone.”

So even though the Indians have gotten red-hot and clawed their way back to within 5 1/2 games of the division-leading Twins, Baldelli is less concerned with his club’s slimming lead -- to the extent that a 5 1/2-game lead can be considered “slim” -- and is instead more impressed by his team’s resilience and fight over this recent stretch of games.

“This stretch of time could have gone in a very different direction for us,” Baldelli said. “It could have gotten very tough. The losses could have piled up if it weren't for our players being able to come through, being able to, like I said, play when they weren't at their best. Guys have just continued to produce. We've won games we probably shouldn't have even won. We've had guys just continually do it over and over again.”

Kepler removed from game due to bothersome knee

Kepler was lifted for a pinch-runner in the 10th inning of Sunday’s contest due to continued issues with a bruised knee. Kepler went 1-for-5 in the game with a single, but Baldelli said afterward that the Twins didn’t feel that it was in Kepler’s best interest -- nor the team’s -- to keep letting him run the bases.

“He needed to get off of his feet, and we needed to get someone out there that actually could run 100 percent and be able to do it,” Baldelli said.

Baldelli does not believe that the knee will cause significant issues for Kepler in the second half and said that the four days away from game action should help the ailment subside.

Kepler bruised his right knee when he ran into the center-field wall on May 23 in Anaheim while attempting to make a play on a home run. He was also removed from the ninth inning of a June 29 game against the White Sox, when he aggravated the right knee on a sliding catch in right field.